By Gwinn Volen
Your child’s preschool experience is likely one memory that will stick in your mind more vividly than others. You are hyper aware of their development and their experiences. Is he making friends? How is he fairing without me? Is he learning at the appropriate pace? Can he pump on a swing? Does he need to read by Kindergarten? Oh, the list goes on. Eventually third grade hits, and well, you’ve relaxed…but that’s a whole other story.
My memories of of my two boys in preschool at Accotink Academy By the Sea are vivid. I can still see my little boys in navy shorts and white shirts walking hand in hand with the likes of Miss Lee or Miss Stacy from the carline. I have memory books that their teachers made for me and snapshots of some of the cutest class parties you’ll ever see. The recital photos are both adorable and hysterical. It was, and remains, a very special place for early childhood education.
If you currently have a child on the preschool circuit, you probably have heard that Accotink By the Sea has been acquired by Keystone Child Development Center.
Though Accotink has struggled the past few years with its absentee ownership, the caring staff continued to go above and beyond to provide parents with the experience every parent wants for their young child.
And what luck!!! Now Accotink has found a partner and parent in Keystone Child Development Center, adding Keystone staff and curriculum to the Ponte Vedra school for the all new Keystone By the Sea.
This is a HUGE win for the Accotink family – parents and staff alike.
Keystone is phenomenal. If you haven’t visited it yet, it’s a brilliant place offering an array of services from gifted tested, behavioral consultation, speech and occupational therapies, and counseling. It also has the only integrated health special needs program in all of Northeast Florida. I have several friends who hold Keystone very close to their heart for the support they offer.
So preschool parents, what does this mean? Is the Accotink we all love going away? Will it still have a great preschool program?!
The short answer is that Accotink will remain the same special place it has always been. The teachers that you have heard about or remember are remaining.
I’m sure there will be changes, but good ones like… More staff! More funding! More support! More activities!
Rather than bore you with any more of my analysis, I went straight to the source for answers. Dr. Katie Falwell and Accotink Director Rebecca Bowersox sat down and answered some of my questions.
First, let’s meet Katie Falwell, PH. D., and the CEO of Keystone and now Keystone By the Sea (formerly Accotink).
Dr. Falwell is a Florida licensed psychologist who specializes in child development. Dr. Falwell completed her pre-doctoral training at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and her postdoctoral residency at the University of Florida. She became a member of the UF faculty in 2006. Her focus shifted to the greater pediatric needs of North Florida community and the development of Keystone in 2008. Katie is a Ponte Vedra resident and embraces all that coastal living has to offer. She spends her spare time with family including her infant and toddler sons, and teenage daughter.
(Editor’s note: I utilized Dr Falwell’s services back in 2009. I was worried about my quiet, introverted son (please say nervous preschool mom three times). He wasn’t like the other preschool kids. Didn’t want to sing? Didn’t warm up to people easily? Insisted on taking his lamby to school with him. After some testing, it was determined that was just his personality, and I was over analyzing things. Dr. Falwell did a fantastic job of laying things out for me in a calm, intelligent manner. What a coup to have Falwell and her staff available to your preschool child if needed!)
With all the growth in Jacksonville, there are many new schools opening up. What makes Keystone By the Sea different?
Building on Accotink Academy’s 19 years of successfully nurturing and educating children, Keystone By The Sea is adding enhanced programs and leadership to create a high-quality preschool that will set young scholars up for future academic, emotional and social success.
Will the staff we love change?
Rebecca Bowersox will continue in her role as Head of School along with Accotink’s current staff of 40. There will be the addition of some Keystone staff, including Ashley Kiser as the Director of Child Development under the overall direction of Keystone CEO and founder Katie Falwell, Ph.D.
Is Keystone By the Sea turning into a special needs school?
Keystone By The Sea will continue to educate typically developing children as Accotink has in the past. We are enhancing the early childhood education offered at this location, not changing it. We work every day to prove we’re the right school for each child. We have the educational and developmental expertise to ensure each child’s success – Right from the Start! – because we know the right way to truly educate children. We pay attention to all aspects of the child – the whole child – and, in partnership with parents, work to meet the needs of each child individually.
Our special needs school, Mainspring Academy, will continue to thrive and expand at our main campus in Southpoint.
Will the same enrichment classes be offered?
We will still offer music, dance, Spanish and art (for our older classes) as part of our weekly schedules and offer new after school enrichments such as drama, yoga, health and wellness, cooking, and science. These will be available both during the school day and as part of after school programming.
What can parents do to learn more and ask questions about KBTS?
A town hall meeting for both current and prospective parents to ask questions about the merger will be held thisThursday, April 14 at 6pm at Accotink Academy by the Sea, 171 Canal Blvd.
There are several preschool choices in Ponte Vedra, and Accotink remains at the top of the stack. I’m biased, but I don’t think you can find as wonderful of a facility paired with such a fantastic and caring staff in another place. And now, the school has the resources it needs to expand and provide your child with even more.
I asked two of my favorite teachers there how they felt about things.
“I’m looking to forward to the opportunity with Keystone to continue seeing the children grow emotionally, socially and academically, says Lee deNagy (aka Miss Lee), 18 year Accotink veteran. “It’s inspiring to know that my first class at Accotink is now in college and I love nothing more than bumping into them or their parents and hearing what they are up to now.”
Adds Stacy Houtz (aka Miss Stacy), a 16 year veteran, “I am incredibly excited to work with such an amazing group of people knowing that they are committed to educating and nurturing our children in the same Accotink tradition. I am truly looking forward to sharing with our students the knowledge and opportunities that Keystone has to offer!”
Remember, Town Hall Meeting Thursday, April 14 at 6pm in the Accotink By the Sea (now known as Keystone By the Sea) building at 171 Canal Boulevard.