Published on December 31, 2020

Fern & Feather Preschool Celebrates Its First Year

Fern & Feather Preschool staff and students celebrate the return of in-person learning in early September 2020

Preschoolers examining a tree cavity at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in winter

Mass Audubon works to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife through conservation, education, and advocacy. We welcome visitors of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to our statewide network of wildlife sanctuaries. Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary protects island wildlife and wild lands and provides open space, education programs, and opportunities for involvement in wildlife conservation for children and adults year-round.

Fern & Feather Preschool welcomed its first class of students on September 7, 2019. At full enrollment of 20 families, we were excited (and a little nervous) to see all of our hard work and planning in action in our beautiful new barn.

Many Island families struggle to meet the costs of early education. With the support of grants and others, we were able to provide four families with financial support this first year. Felix Neck also enrolled in the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development's CDBG grant program so that our enrolled families will be able to receive financial support from the state.

We're excited to offer this deeply important service to the Island community. We are already looking into preschool expansion, as early education is a critical need for Island families—just ask our 140-family waitlist!

Preschoolers walking through a field in late fall at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in winter

Fern & Feather Preschool students and staff enjoyed six months of learning about each individual student, creating rich curriculum, gathering friends and family for holidays and other events, and exploring the outdoors nonstop. Then, on March 13, the program closed its classroom doors due to COVID-19.  

Within two weeks, our preschool director, Ryan Ofsthun, and the Felix Neck education department were able to launch a virtual platform for our students and families integrating Facebook and Zoom, reconnecting with our preschool families. We refunded the prorated school fees for the remainder of the year, while Fern & Feather teachers continued to offer nature exploration and connection through short videos, music, crafts, lessons, movement, and one-on-one video chats through the end of the school year. 

It was not how we expected our first year of preschool to go, but through resilience, strength, and solutions, we completed the year and served Island families during very stressful times. We even gathered for a small, socially distanced graduation to honor our first class of students who were headed off to kindergarten.

On September 8, 2020, after careful consideration of Massachusetts guidelines, Mass Audubon's protocols and EEC blessings, we opened our doors for in-person learning again. This current year we were able to serve 18 families. There were some adjustments we needed to make to assure safety in our classroom-the space was reorganized to section off areas, nap and lunch time was staggered, certain manipulatives and toys had to be removed from our indoor space, and insane amount of cleaning supplies and PPE's were purchased, and we took away our extended day offerings to accommodate extra, deep sanitization, and cleaning.

Preschoolers on a log near the pond in late fall at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in winter

Even with these changes, returning and new families alike were excited and grateful to be able to send their children to our program. With the outdoors and open space being more important than ever, our program drew attention from many families relocating to Martha's Vineyard. Being outdoors and connecting people to nature has always been what we do best. Being able to do this through early education has been a timely and necessary bonus. 

As we come to the end of the calendar year and send our teachers off for a much-needed holiday break we reflect on the amazing courage, adaptability, and commitment of our staff, students, and families.

We served 20 families our first year of Fern & Feather, with a few coming last summer for our modified half-day summer camp offering, and eight new students in the 2020-2021 school year. We also offered camp programs for Grades 6-8 for four weeks, outdoor nature adventures for Quaran-teams ages 4-14, and outdoor homeschool and afterschool programs for Grades 3-6 which registered over 150 individuals.