On Monday October 9th the Tubbs firestorm tore through our community, It came down off the mountain and destroyed countless homes and businesses.
In the destruction Mark West Community Preschool burned to the ground. This school was a haven for children and families. Set on one acre it provided these children a sense of place and was an oasis for everyone. As one of the founders, Jenny evacuated her own home (that was also lost), she stopped and turned on a sprinkler and let the goats out. We came back 2 days later and there they were waiting for us along with 4 of our 18 chickens. Now please understand that this fire was hot swift and fast. There was nothing left but there they were. The goats Richard and Bubs now stand as a beacon of hope for our community. This alone tells us we need to rebuild better than ever.
We must do this for our community. We want to return and have the highest quality early childhood education center. We want to push the boundaries beyond what people think is even imaginable. We cannot do it without community support. Please Please donate. We do this for our children. They deserve it!
“What we have to do now is draw out the image of the child, draw the child out of the desperate situations that many children find themselves in. If we redeem the child from these difficult situations, we redeem ourselves. Children have a right to a good school — a good building, good teachers, right time, good activities. This is the right of ALL children”. ~Loris Malaguzzi
Imagine a place that is simply an oasis for children.
A place focused on educating children through joy, beauty and compassion. A place that builds a strong foundation under young children that will support them through this ever-changing world.
As we embark upon the rebuild of Mark West community preschool we envision not only bringing this place back to what it once was but also furthering our commitment to the rights of children. The right to be healthy, happy and have a future grounded in sustainability and hope. We now more than ever have a responsibility to create a place where children and families can feel that they are respected, they are cherished and they are at home.
The Mark West Community Preschool rebuild has a mission to not only restore what once was but to be an example to our community of what high quality early childhood education should be. We will include all of the components in our rebuild to send a message to our community that children are valued and important. We will bring to light how crucial early life experiences are and that they are the forefront of our priorities. We are building a preschool unlike any other preschool that supports the rights of children through Beauty, Safety and Sustainability. The state of the art building will be constructed using disaster resistant steel framing and insulated panels. The buildings will be rich in architecture and beauty. They are energy efficient, solar powered and stainable complete with rainwater catchment systems, heated flooring and ample natural light. The glass walls, windows and skylights will allow children to bring the beauty of the outdoors in. When you walk into Mark West community preschool it is clear that this is a space for children. We will create a school where children’s ideas are valued, their experiences are authentic and their world is honored. The aesthetic of the environment is paramount to children’s ability to move into the space and embrace it as their own. When children are given high-quality environments and high-quality materials they gain a deep understanding of respect and support. This strong foundation will allow them to move forward with passion and joy that they will carry on for their entire life.
As we embark upon this rebuild process we are dedicated to providing high-quality, affordable early childhood experiences for families in Sonoma County. Sonoma County is an incredible place to grow up. We strive to build a school that is just as unique and reflective of the strong values that Sonoma County stands for.
In July of 2013 Renee Whitlock-Hemsouvanh and Jenny Kenyon embarked on the opening of Mark West community Preschool.
We remodeled the 3000 sq. ft. school located at 4614 Old Redwood hwy. This school was built in 1965 by William and Barbara Lane who operated Guadalupe Private School in that location for over 40 years. In addition to the building remodel we landscaped the one-acre parcel complete with goats, chickens and a school garden. This was a truly unique program based on the connection to nature and the outdoors.
In January 2014 Mark West Community Preschool opened with 12 children. By August of that year we had 120 Families enrolled and 60 children daily. Since then Mark West Community Preschool has operated at full capacity with a wait list.
On October 9th 2017 our school community was devastated. Although we have all been impacted, this loss truly rocked the foundation of the children in our community.
Since the fire we have found that we are sorely underfunded to rebuild the school. Building a new facility in the current climate of Sonoma County is cost prohibitive for the intended use. Our insurance covers approximately 30% of the total actual cost. To rebuild the structure and upgrade the facility with ADA requirements, current code upgrades and infrastructure the cost is approximately $1.5 million.
Please understand that a preschool budget cannot support paying upwards of $1.5 million for the facility alone. Under these circumstances to continue to pay fair wages, maintain low ratios and provide a high quality program that the children and families deserve would be impossible.
We are activity pursuing all options in order to bring our community back together and provide a sense of normalcy for the children. 4614 Old Redwood Highway offers a unique setting unlike any other program in our community. We remain optimistic in the face of the devastation that the fire cannot take away this special place.
Our Spaghetti Feed fundraiser was a huge success. Thank you for all of you support!
In addition to the loss of our beloved preschool, over 20 students and 2 educators lost their homes, and we are all still struggling with the loss and emotional toll of the last few weeks.
Our school serves 100 children, so a large percentage of our students have lost both their home and their preschool.
We have been fortunate to quickly identify a temporary location; families, teachers and alumni are working tirelessly to open the location to our children and families as quickly as possible. Providing the continuity of teachers and classmates in our temporary location will be healing for all of us.
We hope to make the new space familiar to the children by replacing the furniture, supplies and play spaces with items used in our past school, including many open-ended, natural material items.
Let us bring this vision to fruition.
Shortly after Mark West Community Preschool opened and I began working there, my niece Kyleah joined my class of 2016. She’d been a part of the community for over a year when she moved to Ukiah. Her parents, my brother and sister-in-law, were so committed to the school that they tried to keep her there a couple of days a week, spending a night a week at my parents’ house to make it possible. When her sister Sophia was old enough, she joined the 2018 Mulberry class. Ultimately the commute became too much and they left the school. Since then, their parents have separated and there has been a lot of turmoil in their lives as they share their time between Ukiah and Santa Rosa.
Lately, every time I saw Kyleah, she talked about Mark West and how much she missed it and wanted to visit. Sunday, October 8 we finally made it happen, and I met my brother and the girls at the school so they could visit and play. They pet the animals, they held a chicken, they collected eggs, they ate tomatoes from the garden, and they played in the Redwood Room, using loose parts to cook up a meal in the kitchen. I believe we were the last ones to be present in the school before Jenny and her family arrived to do what they could for the animals before the fire hit. I will be forever grateful that I was able to give my nieces a little bit of the joy that Mark West has always given before it was taken from us.
Mark West Community Preschool isn't just a school, it's Taryn's second home. The place where animals taught her chores can be fun (especially "chicken chores"), the space where she was greeted daily by Uppy, the gopher, it's the learning environment that taught her to care for the earth through recycling and composting and the classroom where teachers nurtured her love for painting, storytelling and "playing outside with my friends."
Taryn is ready to physically rebuild the school with her own two hands and has even sweetly offered to paint "at least one wall pink."
The whole family is steadfast in our love for Mark West Community Preschool and we eagerly await the day we can rebuild with Taryn.
These fires may have destroyed the building that cultivated the memories, but certainly not the spirit behind it.
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To donate by mail please mail to our sister school.
C/O Hidden Valley Community Preschool
3421 Bonita Vista Lane
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
4614 Old Redwood Highway