Bittersweet last day for Concord’s Step Ahead Learning Center

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  • Emma Moquin, 4, looks out on to the parking lot at the Step Ahead Learning Center at the Wesley United Methodist Church on Clinton Street on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The Center is closing down and Executive Director Kim Erickson wanted to do a special drive-through graduation for the children. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Moquin, 4, looks out at the graduation with her great-grandmother Judy Berman in the parking lot at the Step Ahead Learning Center at the Wesley United Methodist Church on Clinton Street on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The Center is closing down and Executive Director Kim Erickson wanted to do a special drive-through graduation for the children. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Executive Director Kim Erickson (left) and long-time teacher Maria Lennon dance at the special graduation drive-though party at the Step Ahead Learning Center on Clinton Street on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The Center is closing its doors so Erickson and the staff wanted to do something special for this year’s graduates. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Executive Director Kim Erickson (left) and longtime teacher Maria Lennon dance at the special graduation drive-thru party at the Step Ahead Learning Center on Clinton Street on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Emma Moquin, 4, looks out on to the parking lot at the Step Ahead Learning Center at the Wesley United Methodist Church on Clinton Street on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The Center is closing down and Executive Director Kim Erickson wanted to do a special drive-through graduation for the children. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emma Moquin, 4, looks out on to the parking lot at the Step Ahead Learning Center at the Wesley United Methodist Church on Clinton Street on Wednesday during a drive-thru celebration. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Longtime Step Ahead Learning Center teacher Maria Lennon gets emotional as she waves goodbye to students in the drive-thu graduation at the school on Clinton Street on Wednesday. The school will be closing after 22 years. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/20/2020 4:06:18 PM

Wednesday was a bittersweet day at the Step Ahead Learning Center. There was a drive-by graduation for the children who had just finished the year in the preschool program, with lots of waves, smiles and balloons.

But the happiness from that celebration was tempered by the knowledge that the learning center is closing after 23 years.

“We are looking at this as a joyful moment to celebrate all that we have been to the community of Concord and, yes, we are also sad because we have always had the most amazing families at Step Ahead and we’ll miss them,” Step Ahead founder and Executive Director Kim Erickson said. “This is the completion of what we’ve done here, and we have always been so proud to have these amazing families that are dedicated to early education and that’s why all these parents showed up today. Those are dedicated parents who want to be a part of this.”

The closing was due to changing demographics and changing needs in the Concord area and was not related to the coronavirus pandemic, Erickson said.

“After careful, careful consideration the Step Ahead board of directors decided to close Step Ahead effective this year,” Erickson said. “A really big reason for that was the changing demographics in Concord with children.”

Wednesday’s graduation, however, was impacted by coronavirus.

“We wanted to finish strong and be able to celebrate the end of successful year, but how we would put that together changed many times over due to COVID-19,” Erickson said. “Our plans changed drastically for this celebration, but we’ve really enjoyed it.”

Colorful cones were set up in the parking lot for the parade of cars filled with children to begin. Staff stood on one side of the cones, waving their arms and homemade flags and as cars rolled past a few feet away with smiling children hanging out the windows. Parents gave teachers thank you cards and gifts.

Teacher Maria Lennon got choked up when she said goodbye to families for the last time.

The learning center opened at the Wesley United Methodist Church on Clinton Street in 1997 with the goal of helping kids get the most out of their childhood by helping them develop a positive attitude about life and learning, develop self-esteem and a positive self-image, learn to be respectful of people, try new things and develop problem-solving and thinking skills. The way Step Ahead approached early childhood education  was based on a simple philosophy.

“We believe children learn best by doing, so this was always a happy, busy place to be and full of noises and children playing and having fun, and with teachers that care and wanted the best for every child,” Erickson said.

That statement is corroborated by the testimonials found on the school’s website, stepaheadlearning.org.

The Schmitz family wrote: “I just wanted to send you a quick note telling you how much we appreciated our years with Step Ahead. I always felt Thuy was loved, respected and safe at Step Ahead. I never had a moment’s worry when I left her at school – I knew she would be learning new things, enjoying the day, playing with friends, receiving hugs from her teachers, and smiling. Thank you for providing such a wonderful environment for my daughter. We thank you for some truly magical years.”

Erickson was full of praise for her co-workers at Step Ahead. She said some of them will continue working in early education, like Program Director Anne Drewniak, while others will retire. Erickson is moving on to work in higher education.

“I’m a passionate educator,” she said, “education is my thing.”

(Geoff Forester contributed to this report. Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)




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