The Bayfield Early Education Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary of helping generations of kids start big-kid school the right way.
The nonprofit program, founded in 1995, is the only licensed preschool in Bayfield, staff members said. A few things have changed for the school over the past 25 years, including its location five times. But what has stayed the same is the camaraderie among staff members and the connections BEEP builds with its close-knit community.
“These parents that bring their children here, they care about their kids. They want them to get a good start in early childhood. They want a place where the kids feel safe and loved,” said Patti Harrmann, a teacher. “That’s what we do here.”
Harrmann has been with BEEP for 23 of its 25 years, long enough that she is now a “grand teacher,” teaching the children of her former students.
During that time, Bayfield grew and so did the early education program. The program started in the Church of Christ basement, shifting shelves around between Sunday school sessions and preschool.
“We were very blessed to have a place,” Harrmann said.
Then BEEP was in modular buildings, and after that, the program was in the old elementary school building, now a home for nonprofits and other groups, near downtown Bayfield.
It moved across the street to a gym space before finally landing in its current facility funded by a multi-year capital campaign in the mid-2000s.
“The kids never cared where we were,” Harrmann said.
The biggest change is the number of families that BEEP serves, said Director April Schneider.
It started with one classroom, now it has four classrooms plus a Friday classroom. Staff members serve 70 students, mostly from Bayfield with occasional kids from Ignacio or Durango.
But BEEP never lost its close community feel, staff members said.
“A lot of the staff has been here for 10 years plus. You can’t really replace that when it comes to that camaraderie and how our teachers know the community,” Schneider said.
Many of the staff members are working mothers, and their kids know each other. They cover for each other’s duties if something unexpected comes up and exchange new ideas for lessons.
BEEP also has a reputation for sending students to kindergarten prepared.
“The teachers in the primary school will know which children came to BEEP,” Harrmann said. “We just have a really good program.”
Bayfield helped build the program and supported its new location through the capital campaign, and the community is still the primary funder for BEEP, Schneider said.
If its annual December fundraiser, Miracle on BEEP Street, is canceled, the school will lose a minimum of $5,000, Schneider said.
“Obviously, this year has changed significantly because of COVID,” she said. “Our primary goal is to still serve our families. We’ve done a great job of having to change everything, but not having anyone notice.”
The preschool has been open since July because the need is there, Schneider said. Its programs are up and running at full capacity, while meeting public health requirements.
Even the 25th anniversary celebration is delayed until spring, when staff members hope to hold a community event. Through it all, staff members are focused on providing the best programs possible for their students.
“Teachers are the heartbeat of BEEP, but students and the families are the pulse. They are the ones that keep us going,” Schneider said. “We love their kids like our own.”