Beacon Falls nursery school celebrates 50th year

From left, United Day School co-directors Susan Kean and Wendy Oliveira are pictured with Lori Follett and Ken Follett, seated, at a celebration to mark the Beacon Falls nursery school and daycare’s 50th year. Lori Follett is the daughter of VinciAnn Follett, who started the school with Theresa Healey. –CONTRIBUTED

BEACON FALLS — Fifty classes of 4-year-olds have graduated from nursery school at United Day School, and one thing has always remained the same.

“We are extremely family-friendly,” said Wendy Oliveira, one of the co-directors of the Beacon Falls nursery school and daycare. “We pride ourselves on that. We’re a small community and we’re always reminded of that.”

The milestone group of children participated in the 50th graduation ceremony from United Day School on June 8, and teachers, students and parents from the past and present celebrated the achievement at a party June 13.

The school has come a long way from its founding in the fall of 1968 by Vinci Ann Follett and Teresa Healy. When the school opened in the lower portion of the United Church of Beacon Falls — the home it still keeps, although the church is now known as the Beacon Falls Congregational Church — it was only open from 9 to 11:30 a.m. three days a week for 4-year-olds.

Over the years, the program expanded to 3-year-olds, then to full-day daycare in the 1980s, then to a summer program in the late 1990s.

Follett retired in 2001, leaving longtime employees Oliveira and Sue Kean to run the school. Soon after they took over, United Day opened an after-school program at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in 2002. They expanded that program to Prospect Elementary School in 2015.

Oliveira cited the long-term working relationships with the Beacon Falls Congregational Church and Region 16 as being crucial reasons for United Day’s longevity.

“It’s a tough business because there have been a lot of changes over the years,” Oliveira said. “To be able to do this in a small town like Beacon Falls, the relationships are crucial to our business. We’ve had a wonderful relationship with the church over 50 years, (and) having that (after-school) program is extremely beneficial to our parents. We all work hand in hand.”

Although daycare requirements continue to evolve, one constant at United Day is its relationship with the community. Teachers and children routinely participate in activities with other town organizations. Each summer, the children who operate United Day’s lemonade stand select a local group to which they can donate their proceeds.

United Day’s summer group enjoyed a field day June 27 at the Beacon Falls Recreation Complex, complete with a visit from Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 and a pizza party. When Oliveira looked around, she saw the past and the present of United Day.

“Three of the firefighters who came were once United Day kids,” Oliveira said. “That was really at the forefront with the kids.”

Oliveira admitted that she and Kean probably won’t be around for United Day’s 100th graduating class, but they hope the formula that has helped children and families over the past 50 years will last for at least another 50.

“We’d love to have United Day be around for another 50 years,” Oliveira said. “We want to focus on the same things — the kids always come first, we have to keep up with the changes in childcare, and we will always do our best for the kids and their families.”