Kent’s South End is getting a new preschool, founded by child development researchers

A rendering of the Watershed Community School. Submitted image

Two educators with ties to Kent State’s beloved Child Development Center announced they will open a new school for young children in Kent’s historic South End neighborhood. 

Having recently received a conditional use permit from the City of Kent, the Watershed Community School has cleared one of the remaining hurdles to open the preschool for kids aged 3 to 5 years.

The proposed site at 349 W. Elm St. currently is a vacant lot. Co-directors and lead teachers Rochelle Hostler and Casey Myers, both award-winning teachers and scholars with extensive early childhood classroom experience in Kent, will staff the school.

Operating on their own dime, Hostler and Myers hope to open the preschool at some point this year, but construction schedules and permitting may delay their plans until early 2024, Hostler said.

“The stakes are high, but this is something we’ve worked our whole careers for,” Myers said. “For us, we felt like this is the next step for us in terms of doing something meaningful that will have a great impact and will be fulfilling, rewarding and challenging.”

Watershed Community School will be small, calling to mind the look and feel of a one-room schoolhouse, with about a dozen potty-trained children enjoying mornings-only activities under the watchful eyes of Myers and Hostler.

The school will be licensed as a childcare facility under the auspices of the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services. Watershed will be inspected at least twice a year, and both Myers and Hostler will comply with required background checks and safety training as well as with other state guidelines.

Hostler and Myers said Kent’s Historic South End offers possibilities they did not find in other Kent neighborhoods. The Thomas-Anderson Memorial Garden, Kent Post Office, Plum Creek Park, Ace Hardware and Asian Kent Food Market are all within walking distance and will provide many opportunities for the children to explore.

“The fact that the neighborhood recently received the historic designation was an indicator that there are people living in this neighborhood who are caring, who are involved, and that this is a community that is active and informed,” Myers said.

“We wanted to enhance that. We wanted to align ourselves with those efforts,” Hostler said, finishing her partner’s thought.

Best of all, residents of the Historic South End will receive priority for enrollment and a percentage of discount off tuition and fees.

Watershed’s educational philosophy is based on respectful relationships and place-based education. A walk to the park may take longer or may not even end at the park if an interesting alternative turns up. The possibilities along each path, each activity, are endless, Myers said.

As they engage with Kent’s ever-changing weather, observe construction projects and wildlife, interact with neighbors, and practice crossing the street safely, the end goal of arriving at Point B may never happen, Myers said.

“Children,” she said, “are invested in the process, not the product. Products make adults feel good.”

Knowing that children love to see things grow and change, and thrive on being a part of things bigger than they are, Hostler and Myers envision the children helping at the Thomas-Anderson Memorial Garden.

The new preschool is serious about being a good neighbor. Hostler and Myers hope to trade with local restaurants for parent-teacher conference refreshments, obtain needed supplies from Ace Hardware and contract with local people for property maintenance.

Rochelle Hostler (left) and Casey Myers from the Watershed Community School website.

Hostler is a former lecturer in Kent State’s School of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies in the College of Education, Health and Human Services. In 2017, she earned an Outstanding Teaching Award, Kent State’s highest honor bestowed on non-tenured track faculty for teaching achievements.

In 2016, she oversaw the transformation of Kent State’s Child Development Center into an International Baccalaureate World School, creating a pathway for the center to access IB’s innovative, research-based curriculum.

Hostler earned her master’s degree in human development from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California. She holds an early childhood education teaching license from the State of Ohio and has worked with young children for more than 20 years.

Myers was also connected with the Child Development Center. As coordinator of studio and research arts, she facilitated the aesthetic and material dimensions of children’s and teachers’ inquiry at the lab school. She also taught teaching and research in Kent State’s early childhood education program and was a qualified speech-language pathologist.

Myers holds a master’s degree in speech-language pathology and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in early childhood education, both earned at Kent State. Like Hostler, her professional concentration is with children under 5 years of age.

Hostler and Myers are editors of Reframing the Everyday in Childhood Pedagogy, a textbook set to be published in August.

Myers and Hostler formed their partnership to combat their perception that America’s schools suffer from a profound disconnect.

“We noticed that the times we were the most unfulfilled was when there were disconnections between teachers, children and the broader community,” Hostler said. “We felt we could be less frustrated and more fulfilled if we tried to connect all of those things.”

“That meant we had to do this ourselves,” Myers concluded.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.