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Oldest island school gets remake, adds programs for toddlers

By Staff | Mar 18, 2015

CECI director Cindy DeCosta. CRAIG GARRETT

It’s getting a little easier for families with younger children.

The Children’s Education Center of the Islands has added a new class for kids as young as 18 months at the island’s oldest preschool. The school is also refacing its playground and the classrooms, replacing plastic with wood and fiber equipment, dumping bright walls for more muted colors, all to create a more natural setting, the school’s director Cindy DeCosta said.

“Sanibel is surrounded by wildlife and nature,” she said. “They should only expect the same at their school.”

The preschool provides classes for children ages 18 to 24 months old with a ratio of one adult for every three children, well below state guidelines, DeCosta said. The class offers age appropriate activities, including art, music, sensory games and books, and promotes socialization with children their own age as well as older children. Outdoor playtime is encouraged with a separate outdoor play space, connected to a large playground.

The Children’s Education Center of the Islands was founded and designed as a parent cooperative center in 1974 by three moms who saw the growing need for group social activities. In 1974, Francis Bailey allowed the co-op to use the old Bailey’s General Store on Bailey Road for $1 a year to serve as the center’s home. In 1980 the school moved to its current Casa Ybel location when the Sanibel Lions Club and the Bailey family donated five acres of land and Casa Ybel Resort donated two guest cottages joined to create the main building. In 1993, islanders Larry and Kathie Thompson donated an island home to CECI and in 1997 it was rehabilitated and houses the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) class.

The center is governed by a board of directors and parents are required to give at least 20 hours of volunteer service to the school each year. Scholarship recipients’ parents are required to give 40 hours of volunteer service.

The school’s two big fundraisers are the fall Beach Ball and the Spring Festival, which is the Saturday before Easter. These help provide scholarship programs and capital improvements: Some 25 percent of the kids enrolled in the school receive some level of scholarship.

Details are at 472-4538.