Nursery closes, forcing parents to explore other options

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A beloved spot in the neighborhood has closed its doors for good.

Riverdale Nursery School & Family Center, located on 3816 Waldo Ave., won’t reopen with other day cares bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic, forcing families to look elsewhere for child care.

The nursery school was part of a non-profit formed in 2004 aimed at providing quality early childhood education for boys and girls in this part of the Bronx, as well as Westchester County and upper Manhattan. Over the years, a number of families have sent their children to the nursery school. But that changed when the economic shutdown ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo kept many parents home, meaning they didn’t need day cares and nurseries for months.

Danya Katok-Ahlbin, whose son attended Riverdale Nursery School for two years, says she was notified of the school’s closing through an email from Susan Smelin, its founding director.

At first, Katok-Ahlbin felt a mixture of disappointment and sadness about the closing, calling Riverdale Nursery a special place for the community.

“I had toured so many of the other schools in the area,” she said. “I picked this school specifically because I just loved it so much.”

After realizing her son would have to go somewhere else for pre-K, panic began to settle in. Katok-Ahlbin would have preferred to keep her son with children from his existing class since they all have had a chance to get to know each other over the last two years. Thankfully, with some recommendations from Smelin, Katok-Ahlbin’s son will attend a new school with many of his old classmates.

But nothing can replace the welcoming environment of Riverdale Nursery School, she said. Its shutdown is a huge loss for the neighborhood, Katok-Ahlbin added, praising the school’s inclusive environment and “green” curriculum where the kids learned how to help the Earth by recycling and living sustainable lives. The school was generally highly recommended amongst other parents who also had sent their children there.

“I could mention that my son goes there, and literally everyone would have a story about that school,” Katok-Ahlbin said. “People couldn’t stop singing its praises. And now it’s gone.”

The thought of a popular nursery in the area shutting down is a scary one for many parents. Xaxia Sanchez’s daughter Xyla has attended Silver Spoons Family Daycare on Corlear Avenue for the past two years. The relationship she’s developed with staff members there is extremely important to her.

If the day care were to follow Riverdale Nursery’s closing, Sanchez says it would be difficult. Fortunately, Xyla — who is now 4 — is heading to kindergarten soon, so the search for good day care won’t be as hectic.

“I always felt so safe sending Xyla there,” Sanchez said. “I can’t imagine having to look for another school on such short notice.”

Places like Riverdale Nursery and Silver Spoons are vital to the community, says Sanchez, especially during times like these where some parents can’t work from home and need care for their children.

For Johanna Edmondson, losing Silver Spoons — which she’s owned for nearly 20 years —would simply be devastating. The day care had to close just a few days before St. Patrick’s Day after the initial coronavirus outbreak, and Edmondson admits there were times she feared the day care would close permanently.

Especially as the months went by.

“We could have reopened back in May or June,” she said. “But I was so worried about one of the kids possibly getting sick. We couldn’t take that chance.”

There are plans to reopen in September, and Edmondson wants to ensure everyone is safe when that time comes. That means operating at a limited capacity, which in of itself will open a new arena of problems. Nearly 90 percent of the children are expected to return, while there are still other parents whose children have aged out of the program but are still asking if they can still send their kids to the school.

And Edmondson understands why. Places like Silver Spoons offer parents security, something they might not get from public schools as they get set to reopen in a few weeks, despite the coronavirus still being out there.

“We’re trying to accommodate everyone,” Edmondson said. “But I might have to turn some parents away.”

Still, Edmondson is grateful the day care gets to continue. Not just for her sake, but for the parents and children who she has bonded with.

After learning about Riverdale Nursery School’s closing, Edmondson offered her sympathies to the staff members and parents: “That’s something I never want to imagine.”

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