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Little Friends Nursery School graduates 16 during 50th commencement

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 - Updated: 9:56 AM


C-S-E Editor

CANAJOHARIE -- Little Friends Nursery School, the oldest business operating in Canajoharie under a sustained title, excitedly celebrated its 50th year of operation on Friday when the current class of 16 graduated. The ceremony, which saw the young students perform a medley of songs and receive commencement crowns and gift bags, was held at the Reformed Church of Canajoharie.

Lois Comins (who owns Little Friends with her husband, Warren, who just retired after spending 35 years there as custodian) said that she's seen about 2,000 kids come and go in the 50 years she's worked at the nursery school.

In that time, Comins has seen three generations pass through the school, and she attributes the continued success of Little Friends to "the great love of children, of staff members, parent involvement and community outreach of businesses in Canajoharie, Palatine Bridge and beyond."

"We teach them to become good little citizens," said Comins, stating the first order of business at Little Friends, noting that the best part of being involved with the school across numerous decades and generations has been "making a difference in childrens' lives."

A lot has changed over the last 50 years, Comins said, the most significant being that kids today are a bit more advanced -- a bit less shy than kids of the past. Now, because there are a lot of two family households, or households where both parents work full time jobs, the kids come into Little Friends with socialization skills. "They're out in the community more," visiting with family, going to a babysitter on a daily basis.

Instead of crying because they don't want their parents to leave, like in the past, "at open house, many kids cry because they don't want to go home."

"They're a lot smarter now than they used to be," said Comins of today's youth, stating that the average three-year-old is closer in mentality to a four-year-old of the past. "It's just how it's evolved," she said, adding that nowadays, kindergarten preparation is more advanced. Kids today learn their address and phone number, how to write their name and tie their shoes, while kids of the past didn't have to yet know that information.

A lot of teaching at Little Friends, said Comins, is done through music. "We've been singing every day for about a month" to practice for the medley of songs performed at Friday's commencement, she said, though the kids sing all year long. Friday's graduation ceremony included a spirited version of "Wheels on the Bus," which required the kids to remember the numerous parts of a school bus, along with its riders, building the bus up before sending it safely back home.

In bonding with and learning about the community surrounding them, the Little Friends take a field trip every month. On Mother's Day, the 16 students went to Johnstone Florist for a tour, then purchasing marigolds for their mothers. The field trip then took them to Gino's, where the kids made their own pizzas from scratch. "It was so sweet," said Comins, thrilled to watch the kids learn and grow together.

Another important field trip saw the kids taking an ambulance ride, teaching them an important lesson -- not to be afraid if themselves or somebody they know are taken in an ambulance.

Comins' great grandson, Johnathan -- a graduate of Friday's class, son of her granddaughter Jessica Ferguson, who works at Little Friends as a substitute -- acted as an ambulance patient.

Comins noted that this year's class is especially bonded to one another. "They were all so close," she said,' and every day, the kids arrived with a smile, sincerely excited to see and interact with one another. "It's good for the kids to be in a situation where they can be relaxed and enjoy their friends," she said of the nine girls and seven boys in the class.

Part of the closeness, she said, comes from the fact that Little Friends actively promotes kindness. "We hug a lot here," she said, explaining that the kids also love to interact with the class pets, a poodle named Ruby and a bunny.

Annual activities that promote both socialization and kindness, added Comins, include visiting the Palatine Nursing Home and Arkell Hall. "The kids hug everybody," she said, explaining that she teaches the kids that their presence brings love and joy into the lives of the people in the homes, which she tells them "are filled with grandmas and grandpas".

"I teach the kids to be very loving -- that's my big goal," said Comins.

Some of the fondest Little Friends-related memories, said Comins, happen "when they come back to visit." Sometimes, she said, students come back as middle schoolers and exclaim how different the space looks. "The chairs look awful small," they tell her. Comins said she also loves running into the students years later -- including as parents. At Friday's graduation, numerous graduates were accompanied by parents who were alumni.

Though sometimes she may not initially recognize the kids as adults, Comins said, "Luckily, everybody recognizes me." She often jokingly tells her former students, "my, you're a lot taller than when I had you."

Over the years, Comins said her family members have been instrumental in helping with Little Friends, including her twin sister, Ferguson and Warren, all of who she referred to as "so helpful." Also receiving praise from Comins is Little Friends teacher, Beth Shostek, who was honored during Friday's commencement with a gift for her ten years of devoted service.

While many have asked Comins if she has any plans for retirement, she said that it's hopefully not in her immediate future. "We'll keep going as long as I keep moving," said Comins, explaining that she wants nothing less than to stop doing the job that she's loved for more than half of her life.

"They keep me young," she said of the kids.

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Little Friends 50th Graduation - 2014

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