Jillian Sears, left, four, and Aubrey Olson, right, four, color with markers in the Purple Room at 10:45 AM on July 1, 2016, at Children's School. Children at Children's School enjoyed a variety of activities, including coloring, face painting, and playing with toy cars, before the annual Independence Day Parade that morning. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

 

The littlest Chautauquans are having a ball, and Kit Trapasso wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Children like to play,” said Trapasso, who has served as director of Children’s School since 1984. “I think public schools are doing the best job they can, but we’re so worried about academics that we don’t have time to have children just enjoy learning.”

Trapasso has served as a school psychologist in several states including Indiana, Pennsylvania, California and most recently New York. He retired from that work a few years ago, but that didn’t deter him from continuing his role as Children’s School director.

He said part of the school’s mission is to provide an enriching, cultural environment for children that includes as much as the Chautauqua experience as possible with art, music, dance and drama.

The program, which is available for children ages 3–6, runs from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday for the duration of the season.

Whenever possible, Trapasso and company connect their weekly themes with those of the wider Institution. In Week Four, the overall theme of “Our Search for Another Earth” will coincide with the children’s theme of “Outer Space.” The same goes for the following week, with “People and Environment In Partnership with National Geographic Society” and “Bird, Tree & Garden.”

Trapasso said the school’s uncommon access to the fine arts is a rare opportunity for young children.

“There are cultural activities all over this country, but there aren’t a lot of preschools that have the symphony as their backdrop,” he said.

A second part of the school’s mission is to provide experiences to young people through summer employment, internships and partnerships with colleges.

Each room in the school is staffed with a certified head teacher, an assistant teacher and one each of college and high school-aged assistants.

Bess Renjilian, 18, has been coming to Chautauqua with her family since she was a baby. A few year ago, she volunteered at the Children’s School and now works a summer employee.

“The kids I had when they were 3 years old are now 5,” said Renjilian, a rising high school senior from Atlanta. “Some of my kids were barely talking when I first met them, and now we have conversations and they teach me stuff about outer space.”

Renjilian is interested in engineering and science and most likely won’t pursue a career in early childhood education, but said she values the experience she’s had working in the school.

“It was really cool to be with real teachers as a teenager,” she said.

Of utmost concern to Trapasso is that the children in the school feel safe and comfortable, but also that they have fun while they learn to interact with one another.

“We’re not playing with iPhones and iPads — we’re listening to songs. We’re talking, we’re writing and we’re reading,” he said. “We’ve done that since 1878, and I hope we continue to do that for as long as we’re open.”