Miss Sharon Cowley, who is a much-beloved preschool and art teacher in Wilton, has found a place she can call ‘home’ for her school programs.
Many residents will remember back in September 2013, one week before the start of school, when the CT Department of Public health abruptly closed the “On School Road” program Sharon ran at Wilton’s Parks & Recreation, saying the preschool could not operate as usual because the town had failed to obtain daycare licensing.
The outcry from parents upset by the sudden closure was loud, given that the program had a large number of fans for both its creativity–Sharon and her teachers ran a program that emphasized art and a child-directed curriculum–and flexibility–unlike other preschools, participating parents could adapt and customize the numbers of days and hours their children took part.
But now comes news that Cowley will open a new program, one she’s named “Create Learning Center,” starting in September, at 463 Danbury Rd.. She will offer both a preschool program (for children 18 months to pre-K) as well as after school enrichment for kids in grades k-12.
Not only will the program be fully licensed, but it will be completely independent, and all Sharon’s.
Humbly, Sharon says it’s not just her–the teachers she’ll have with her are intrinsic to the program. “Yes, it’s exciting that this is a space I’m renting for me, but I’ve always been with other people, these girls have been with me for years, it’s like we’re a family–we’re a team. It feels great to be able to have a new home, but I don’t feel like it’s just mine.”
Many of the teachers working with Cowley lost their jobs when Parks & Rec had to shutter the program; most of those teachers are now thrilled to rejoin her, and their happiness is obvious during the photo shoot for this article–“We love this place!” one said emphatically. They all echo how excited and pleased they are to get back to doing what they love to do, in such a nurturing environment. One can imagine why the kids and school families feel so good at the school, as the teachers easily laugh together, joking that they’ll decorate the school’s new signage “with LOTS of glitter!”
Pictured in this story’s main image, the teachers joining Sharon are Tina Benjamin, Jenn Chrysadakis, Wendy Corper, Gloria Bass and Kathy Shapiro.
The women are certainly bubbling over with excitement over plans of how they’ll decorate and renovate the building to prepare for the kids. Sharon said she’ll miss the murals that decorated the walls of the her previous space at Comstock Community Center, but knows that they’ll have the freedom to make the space really sing now that she’s independent. From brightening up the wall paint colors to installing play slides from the deck to the backyard, Sharon is a creative dreamer.
But what she’s really dreaming about is the programming–sitting down to talk with her in the new space she eagerly describes how the kids learn by doing, learning about reading by writing their own fairy tale as a class and working out math problems through fun, hands-on projects. “Even through all the paint and glitter, my focus is on getting the kids reading-ready. Your child will have all the blocks for when they get to kindergarten.”
Cowley is a big proponent in a child-directed program. “I believe in the best of all different ideologies and thought processes. Montessori, Waldorf, mixed-age group, play based, academic–they’re all great. I don’t think any one learning style fits all children, or even any one child all the time. So we mix it up, and I go by what the group’s think-set is. I do a lot of what they’re interested in. I can take any theme and get across the concepts–I’m huge on small-motor; we’re really crafty–however, there’s a method to that madness. We write about every single thing we make; we talk about it; it’s their ideas on how to build it and come up with it so they have to think three-dimensionally,” she said.
She aims to have Create open on September 2, and has a website where people can learn more about registering. And she is planning on sticking with the same enrollment model as what she offered before.
“You can sign up for one day, you can sign up for five days; you can sign up for one day morning, you can sign up for five days mornings and two days afternoons. You can create your own schedule,” Cowley explains of her flexible program.
For afterschool enrichment activities, Sharon has made sure that the school buses will be able to stop at her location so that older children will be able to come to the Create Learning Center for activities like art, cooking, sewing and Spanish as well as hopefully theater and improv and stop-motion animation. “It’s really going to be a creative center, in addition to art,” she said.
For the remainder of the spring season, Cowley will continue overseeing the limited remaining Parks and Rec program that she still runs, and she is also offering the Cool Tots summer program with a limited extended day option. But come September, Sharon will be chomping at the bit to greet her students every morning.
“The kids are the best. We’re going to be doing it again!”