Aurora to open new preschool in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The former Aurora School headquarters in Middlebury will soon host a new pre-school that will take full advantage of the natural surroundings of its 238 Peterson Terrace campus.
Set to open next month with an initial enrollment of six children, the new venture will be appropriately named the “Aurora Preschool,” staffed by Katie McMurray, the former lead teacher of the East Middlebury Cooperative Preschool.
McMurray, who previously ran her own preschool in Monkton and who holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Saint Michael’s College, said plans call for Aurora Preschool to bump up enrollment to 16 children by this fall and add another educator.
Aurora will serve students ages 3 to 5, whose parents are looking for part-, full- or extended-day programming for their children.
“Aurora Preschool is offering a play-based, child-centered, constructivist approach to learning,” McMurray wrote in a recent message introducing the program to the community. “The Aurora Preschool curriculum is intentionally designed to inspire wonder, promote curiosity, and expand learning and discovery. Through daily invitations and guided explorations, children will be immersed in science, nature, music, creative expressions, dramatic play and community building. A cornerstone of our program is the natural world that surrounds us at the Aurora Preschool. Exploring, discovering and playing in nature is part of our daily routine and at the heart of our curriculum.”
McMurray is optimistic the preschool will develop a solid following. And she noted the state’s “universal pre-K” law (Act 166) provides families with tuition reimbursement and a variety of preschool options. Act 166 requires all school districts in Vermont to offer 10 hours per week — during the 35 weeks of the academic year — of pre-K education to children ages 3 to 5 who are not in kindergarten.
Aurora Preschool is envisioned as one of several educational offerings to take root under the roof of the former Aurora School. Founded in 1996, Aurora was a private, K-8 school that specialized in “hands-on, thematically based education” for area students.
Organizers made the difficult decision to close Aurora late last summer due to declining enrollment, a problem most Vermont school districts are facing. But rather than clean out the classrooms and sell the property, boosters conducted a $25,000 fund drive as part of plan to resurrect the space as the “Aurora Learning Center.”
Other plans for the school included rental space for home schooling families, an ongoing chess club, after-school programming and summer camps.
Recent months have seen Aurora officials get more clarity on how the building will be used.
McMurray on Monday said the county’s home schooling community hasn’t declared interest in a spot at Aurora. The Chess Club of Addison County continues to use Aurora on Wednesdays, but is considering a move to a new location, according to McMurray.
But there are other tenants and suitors.
The Middlebury Community Music Center occasionally uses Aurora space for music classes and private lessons. Chinese language classes will resume at the building later this month, according to McMurray. And Rutland-based NeighborWorks of Western Vermont is considering Aurora as a venue for a “fix-it” club that would teach single women basic household repair skills.
McMurray is confident the new preschool will be able to coexist with the other tenants of the Aurora campus. She noted most of the other users would use the facility after school hours, so the young students will be able to stay focused. McMurray hopes to frequently take her students outdoors, to reinforce science and nature education. The preschool will also introduce students to arts, music and drama.
After-school offerings will allow parents the convenience of collecting their preschoolers after work, McMurray added.
In the meantime, McMurray wants to find a good home for a lot of the educational materials and furniture that served the former Aurora School students so well for 21 years. She’s inviting educators, parents and anyone else in the community to show up at the school between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on both Friday, Jan. 12, and Saturday, Jan. 13, to take away items of their choice in return for a donation to the Aurora Learning Center.
For more information about the Aurora Preschool and learning center, log on to auroralearningcentervt.org.
“We are very excited and are hoping the (center) will be a valuable resource for the community,” McMurray said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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