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Friday, April 19, 2024
A lifetime of learning starts at Niagara Nursery School
Candice Penny is executive director of the Niagara Nursery School. SUPPLIED

It’s a typical morning at the Niagara Nursery School, with dozens of children flowing in and teachers setting up for the day ahead. 

Amid the hustle and bustle, a woman with curly blond hair and a wide smile walks the halls greeting the beaming youngsters.

As the school’s executive director, Candice Penny says one of the biggest rewards of overseeing its four classrooms and 73 enrolled children is “the smiles on the children and how they get excited to see me and the other teachers.” 

Part of her job is to make sure everything is organized and updated so the school runs smoothly and the teachers have the proper resources to do their jobs. 

It was tough during the COVID pandemic, but like so many institutions they found a way through. The pandemic’s aftermath has brought new challenges. 

“The initial struggles were just navigating all the safety measures and what that looked like in a child care setting,” she says. 

“It was quite a lot to take in at the time” but strong communication from regional health officials and the co-operation of the parents and children helped a lot.

Other than the teachers having to wear masks, the school tried to maintain a sense of normalcy for the children.

In the wake of the pandemic, though, like a lot of employers, she has noticed one major change: “I’m seeing a real decline in having registered early child care educators,” which causes staffing issues and makes it hard to accommodate things like maternity leave and sicknesses.

“It’s been a struggle, but we’ve come through it and have a really strong teaching team,” she says.

Penny has been with the nursery school since 2011 when she first joined as a teacher and has been executive director for a decade.

Born and raised in Mississauga, she moved to NOTL 15 years ago with her husband David when he took a job as an executive chef.

That’s when she discovered the Niagara Nursery School.  

“I just remember walking in and feeling like, ‘This is where I want to be. This is home.”

Their son William, now 10, attends the facility’s before-and-after-school care. He started at the nursery when he was 27 months old. 

Over the years, Penny has seen the school go through many transformations, including a major 4,700-square-foot expansion that created separate rooms for infants, toddlers, preschool and school-age children. 

The school has been operating in the community since 1972 and Penny says she strives to maintain the same level of passion and commitment as the founders brought to it.

“We are custodians,” she says. Throughout the school’s history “keeping those core values of community and family has always been what I loved most about the school.”

“It’s amazing to see how many generations the school has impacted and being a part of that journey and the history of the school is just an honour.”

From babysitting in her teenage years to her first day shadowing a teacher, Penny says she loves the job.

“I just like the continuous learning of it. You don’t know everything, you will never know everything and that’s the beauty of it,” she says.

“Each child teaches you something new and it is a very humbling profession in that regard.”

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