Marion Rosenfeld, WVNS Alumni (’71) and Alumni Parent (’08)
On May 19, the West Village Nursery School (WVNS), Manhattan’s oldest cooperative Nursery School, marked its 50th anniversary with an all-ages party. The day started with an open house at 73 Horatio Street, the school-owned brownstone, with its iconic blue doors, where hundreds gathered to celebrate the milestone. Scores of alumni, alumni parents, current and former teachers and directors, current and future students and their families, spilled on to Horatio Street, streamed through the classrooms and play yard, and then, led by a bagpipe player, paraded to Pier 46 for a group picnic, concert and birthday cake eating.
West Village Nursery School’s continuing half-century legacy is a reminder that New York City is not only a place of business, high-end boutiques and expensive restaurants. Scratch a little deeper and we New Yorkers know it is actually a network of interconnected families who try to lead meaningful lives and want to instill a sense of kinship and a life long love of learning. Shirley Wright, one of WVNS’s Founding Mothers said about the celebration, “This is a glorious day. So many people here have gone on to be actively involved in their communities — they serve on PTAs and in other [civic] organizations…WVNS gave them an introduction to ‘how to get involved’.”
Aara Kupris Menzi, organizer of the WVNS celebration and herself an alumni (’77) and parent, said about the close-knit school, “It speaks volumes that after five decades, our roster of teachers is a club with limited membership. So many parents love it here so much they come back as teachers, directors, subs, camp counselors and volunteers.”
The roots of WVNS were planted in 1962, when five West Village mothers seeking a cooperative nursery school program for their children founded the school. The originating group discovered a one-room rental on Horatio Street, they drafted by-laws, met licensing requirements, and in the September of that year, West Village Nursery School opened with 16 families. In 1966, the founders discovered the entire brownstone next door was for sale. Pooling the talents, elbow grease and generosity of that pioneering group the building was purchased and renovated. In 1986, WVNS happily burned the mortgage.
Beyond the history of WVNS real estate (an admittedly popular topic for New Yorkers) the real WVNS legacy is one of community spirit, enduring curiosity, and lasting friendships. This spirit was on full display on this blue-sky, sunshine-filled Saturday. As Alexandra McAuliffe, current WVNS president said succinctly, “I have learned, nobody ever really leaves WVNS. We are indelibly imprinted as members of this community.”
The uniqueness of WVNS is its cooperative model: while the staff has full responsibility for the educational program, the townhouse is owned and operated by parents. Parents are also required to share other tasks including admissions, fundraising, maintenance, board membership and, most importantly, to participate twice a month in their child’s school day. Parental participation is at the core of WVNS. Shirley Wright explained, “working in the classroom [alongside the teachers] parents learn about child development ‘in the raw.’ Children become comfortable with caring adults outside their immediate family.”
Parental involvement not only keeps the tuition at a reasonable level (about half the cost of other independent pre-schools) but also brings home and school closer together, creating a closely-knit community that fosters friendships among parents as well as children. Current WVNS director, Tory Ruffalo, said to the gathered crowd, “This is really a celebration for all of us … if you are here today, you have been part of this 50 year journey and have contributed your time, your talents, your children and your commitment to this institution. Each one of us has moved the nursery school forward year by year, building and continuing its cherished traditions….”