Island Children’s School, 45 years and counting

Ethan Knight, left, and Owen McLean customize their "magic buckets" with colorful paints. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

As one of the oldest preschools on Martha’s Vineyard, the Island Children’s School (ICS) has undergone many changes in its 45 years of operation, adapting to families’ evolving needs and schedules. The most recent is a schedule change intended to accommodate working parents.

The preschool has expanded its hours so that it is open from 7 am to 4 pm, five days a week.

ICS director Kimberly Morris-Wadleigh said the schedule change was done to accommodate the needs of parents who start their jobs at 7:30 am, such as high school teachers and hospital employees, as they often struggled to find early morning childcare options before preschool programs start, as well as after-school care.

The ICS half-day preschool program operates from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and full day program from 8:30 am to 3 pm. The extended care hours are from 7 am to 8:30 am and 3 to 4 pm.

“Families can create any type of schedule to accommodate their schedules in those hours,” Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said. “You can build in half days, full days, long days, short days, anything that you need that works for your family.”

The preschool is nestled in the woods off County Road at 5 Halcyon Way, near the West Tisbury School. A well-equipped playground, complete with a bike and trike path, is open to children under the supervision of adults, with no liability assumed by ICS, after school hours and on weekends. ICS also offers Saturday events open to the public from time to time, which are publicized in the Calendar section of The Times under “Children’s Events.”

“Our community is very important to us, and we do get support in so many ways,” Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said. As an example, she said that the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard recently donated $2,000 to ICS for the purchase of a new climbing structure that looks like a fire station.

ICS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit preschool, open to children age 2 years, nine months (referred to as 2.9) through age 5, pre-kindergarten. “It’s really a community school, a collaboration of parents, the board of directors and the staff, coming together to create what everyone wants for their children and the community, with me as a facilitator,” Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said. “I think that’s why the school has had such longevity.”

ICS began with eight students enrolled in 1969, founded by Elaine Allen as a free school in the town of Gay Head, according to the school’s website. There was no tuition and teachers were not paid. In 1993 the school achieved a longstanding goal to move to its West Tisbury facility. The building was renovated and expanded in 2006, and the playground upgraded in 2012.

The school building has two classrooms. The Preschool One classroom, which serves up to 15 children, focuses on ages 2.9 to 4. The Preschool Two classroom serves up to 18 children, ages 4 to 5, as preparation for kindergarten.

“We’re really a nature-based school,” Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said. “We also work with the children on what their interests are, and on their relationships with each other. And within that philosophy, we teach them their skills.”

The preschool has four lead teachers, Heather Bell, Bryna Cronin, Yvonne Leclair, and Suzanne Metell. All are certified under the state’s Department of Early Education and Care, Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said. She also is certified in early childhood education and care, and has a background of 20 years as a public school teacher, with degrees in early childhood and special needs.

The teachers incorporate multi-discipline lessons in keeping with the state standards for preschools, Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said. Curriculum also is created and implemented within student-centered imaginative play, according to the preschool’s mission and philosophy.

Although the school has been around a long time, board member Erika Berg said she thinks many people may not realize it is a preschool, not primarily a daycare facility.

“It’s a hidden gem that many people may not know about,” Ms. Berg told The Times in a recent phone conversation. “The philosophy and mission here are just outstanding. We want people to know they can bring their children here and they’re going to thrive.”

ICS held a fundraiser at Offshore Ale in December and has plans for additional events this spring. Ms. Berg said the board would welcome ideas for fundraisers.

Pricing varies according the individual packages that families create. As an example, she said, tuition for five half-days a week, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, costs $697 per month. Five full days a week, from 8:30 am to 3 pm, would run $989 a month. Eligible families are encouraged to apply for funding from Community Block Grant funds, made available through Bailey Boyd Associates, and from the Child Care Network of Cape Cod and the Islands. ICS offers a 10 percent discount on tuition for all additional siblings.

Ms. Morris-Wadleigh said that enrollment is ongoing. She suggests that parents call her at 508-693-5815 to set up an appointment to visit the school with their children and to get on the waiting list. In March, those on the waiting list will be invited to come for an open house day hosted by the director and teachers, and other interested families may attend as well. A summer program will be offered based on demand and staffing, with information available in April.

ICS recently updated its website,, and has a new Facebook page as well.