After 45 years, a labor of love lost in North Stonington

After 45 years, a labor of love lost in North Stonington


NORTH STONINGTON — “If these walls could talk,” said Kathleen Thompson, of Mystic, smiling as she sat in an adult-size chair next to a low table surrounded by tiny chairs sized perfectly for 3- to 5-year-olds in one of her nursery school classrooms recently.

Generations of local children have attended the North Stonington Nursery School in the Congregational Church at 89 Main Street.

“The best part is just having them come in in the morning,” she said. “Their little faces just lighten you right up and you forget all your problems.”

Thompson, who is the director of the school, had planned to keep it open indefinitely, but a recent diagnosis of breast cancer forced her to change plans.

“It was time to open the school for the fall and I didn’t know if I’d be well enough to work, so I took a three-month medical leave,” she said. “And I thought maybe God is trying to tell me to retire, because I don’t think I’d walk out by myself.”

She founded the school in 1972 with an initial enrollment of five students, and the enterprise grew over the years to more than 16 students and four teachers.

Her goal had always been to become a teacher, and in 1964 she started as a student-teacher in Ledyard. Soon she was offered a position as head teacher at the Ledyard Farm Nursery, where she stayed until opening her own school.

“I just wanted to be a teacher — the preschool just fell in at the right time,” she said. “When I was a kid, like five or six years old, I used to play school — I had a little set of chairs and a table and I used to set my dolls around the table with little pencils and paper.”

In today’s world, teaching preschool has become essential preparation for children before they go to kindergarten, she said.

“Nursery school is like their kindergarten class years ago, and nowadays it’s very important, because when they go to kindergarten, they’re expected to read already,” she said. “And they all know their alphabet and their address — they’re pretty advanced when they go.”

Kids come to nursery school to acquire important skills, but learning to use computers and electronic devices can be omitted until later, she said.

“They come to preschool to learn to share, to be away from mom and dad, and to get prepared for a different environment,” she said. “All that technology will come — they don’t need it at three years old.”

Thompson has no computer and always ran the school’s operations without one.

“She sits down and she writes it down, it’s all paper — in our world that’s mind-blowing,” her grandson, Justin Gauthier, 29, of Long Island, said.

As a child, Gauthier attended Thompson’s school, where he said he learned valuable lessons about how to function as a student in school.

“You learn to be around other kids, you learn to sit down and listen when the teacher’s talking — things you’re not used to at home,” he said.

Thompson has two adult children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and although she wanted to pass on the school to a family member, no one chose to take the reins.

As for the future of the nursery school, the basement facility was grandfathered in by the state, but it cannot be used as a nursery school again unless certain building codes are met, such as adding walkout doors.

Though it’s sad to close the school, memories of generations of children are sweet, especially when she sees her families in the neighborhood.

“You go in the grocery store, they run up and hug and kiss you,” she said. “There are children that we had here years and years ago, and we’ve had their children — it’s rewarding to see them on the outside.”

Looking back, Thompson said teaching never felt like a job.

“It was a pleasure,” she said. “Never in my life did I think my nursery school would blossom the way it did because I never started out to make that happen, and every year it just got better and better.”

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