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This historic Hampden schoolhouse a hidden gem

Carolann Jennings, Levi, and TJ Kilhefner take turns making whipped cream during cooking camp at Highland Pre-School.
CREDIT: Jodi Hersey for The Weekly


Harper Martin, Aubrey Baker, Alice Daggett enjoy making hats during art camp at Highland Pre-School.
CREDIT: Jodi Hersey for The Weekly


By Jodi Hersey

Special to The Weekly


HAMPDEN — One- and two-room schoolhouses aren’t a thing of the past or something you only read about in Little House on the Prairie books. Highland Pre-School, which was built back in 1852 on Kennebec Rd. in Hampden, is one of the few, if not the only traditional nursery schools still in operation in the area today. However, pre-k programs currently being offered at public schools has been affecting enrollment at the historic two-room schoolhouse.

“Our philosophy is children learn best through play,” said Principal Tami Campbell. “It’s about the process, not the product, although we work really hard to have a nice product, too. We just don’t push the academics, which I feel in the schools is getting pushed down and down to the lower grades and putting so many expectations on our little ones and it worries me.”

When Highland Pre-School first opened its doors, it was actually called the McKinley School and operated as such until the 1960s. Campbell herself remembers attending the school as a young girl.

“I went here in first, second, and third grade and my grandfather lived next door,” she explained.

The school later became the Hampden Post Office which is now located on Route 9. After that, the building sat vacant until 1982 when Tami and Wayne Campbell purchased it and returned it back to its former schoolhouse roots.

Today, the school offers half-day sessions as well as modified full days for families looking to enroll their young children. The school assigns two teachers to each classroom and accepts up to 16 students in its program for three-year-olds and up to 18 students in its classroom for four-year-olds.

Kim Ross has been teaching at Highland for the past 11 years. Her classroom, with its original tin walls and ceiling, as well as oversized schoolhouse windows, makes the place feel spacious yet homey at the same time.  

“It’s a real family environment,” said Ross. “We are really able to develop close relationships with our families and we get to know the parents and the children. We have the freedom and opportunity to do things we may not be able to do in a public school.”

Old fashioned or not, there are just some lessons like following the Golden Rule that will always remain timeless.

“We focus on play, socialization, and active learning to help kids develop those social and emotional skills so that when they’re sitting at a desk in a classroom later on, they can take in the knowledge,” explained Ross.

The pre-school year ended in May, but since then Highland has been offering several week-long camps such as cooking, theater, art, and Lego camp to keep young minds moving while also attracting potential students for the next school year which begins the week after Labor Day.

“It’s hard to compete with public schools that are free. But I believe there is a faction of people that don’t feel four-year-olds are ready for a public school setting,” said Campbell. “We want to let that segment of people know we have a traditional pre-school program here [at Highland] and we have openings.”

For more information on Highland Pre-School, log onto www.highlandpreschool.com.



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