North Bay Children’s Center’s Fitch Mountain Preschool Unveils New Outdoor Classroom, Play Space

Preschool children helped Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) Chris Vanden Heuvel cut a white ribbon for the unveiling of the newly renovated outdoor classroom and play area at the North Bay Children’s Center (NBCC) Fitch Mountain Preschool on Dec. 15.

The outdoor classroom is part of NBCC’s Garden of Eatin’ program, which incorporates edible education and garden nutrition into the daily lives of preschool aged children through hands-on curriculum aimed at setting the course “for a lifetime of healthy choices while building a connection to the natural world.”

The program uses evidence-based strategies with measurable outcomes which were studied by the University of California, San Francisco in 2015 and later published in the American Journal for Public Health.

“There is something fundamentally healthy about outdoor play and learning for young children. NBCC has created a special place where children’s imagination can reach their full expression. This is a real treasure for Healdsburg families, exceeding everyone’s expectations. All the elements of the program are very creative and provides an enriched learning experience for the children,” Vanden Heuvel said in a NBCC press release.

“Our vision for a nature-based outdoor classroom and play space began four years earlier when NBCC was brought in to manage the HUSD state-funded preschool program,” said NBCC President and CEO Susan Gilmore. “We took a blacktop playground area adjacent to the preschool classrooms and transformed it into a magical learning environment for early childhood discovery that includes a natural play space with robust edible gardens woven throughout.”

While Gilmore couldn’t attend the ribbon cutting, NBCC Vice President of Programs Kristina Sisseck attended and on behalf of Gilmore, thanked the many individuals who were involved in helping bring the project to fruition.

“I would like to acknowledge some extraordinary individuals. Healdsburg Unified board members along with Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel and his administration team for embracing our vision. They approved the construction plans and agreed to replace the existing playground structure with more innovative options. We also want to recognize the Healdsburg Facilities Department for working with us on construction plans and managing endless landscaping deliveries,” Sisseck said.

Gilmore’s statement, which was read by Sisseck, also thanked Sisseck for her work on the project and the playscape design team — Jay Beckwith and NBCC’s Garden of Eatin’ Director Teresa Fogolini and her team for designing and managing the implementation of the project — as well as Fitch Mountain Preschool Site Supervisor Nicole Porter.

Lastly, the senior facilities/maintenance technician Brian was honored and thanked for his “innovative engineering, resourcing and construction.”     

 The new outdoor space features design elements using all natural and recycled materials. The space includes a living “willow hut” where kids can play in and gather, an outdoor classroom area, fruit trees and garden beds, a mud kitchen and a sand area. There’s also a slide and a climbing space and a trike track for riding tricycles.

Vanden Heveul called the new outdoor classroom and play structure a work of art.

“It’s just beautiful so I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said.

Vanden Hevel lauded the organization for being one of the first to open early in the pandemic in the Spring of 2020 and for bringing kids together at an early age.

“They (NBCC) partnered with us to do preschool and we chose them because of their strong commitment to make preschool accessible to all in Healdsburg and to bring our community together. We all have barriers in Healdsburg that are between us and the vision was to have a preschool that would be accessible to all and really break down those barriers, whether they are ethnic or socioeconomic, and bring kids together at the earliest of age and they’ve done an amazing job,” he said.

The NBCC operates 14 locations throughout the North Bay and the Fitch Mountain Preschool offers full year and half-day programs.