New preschool opening in city's oldest home


Prechool teacher Jamie Taylor helps Casper Lapez, 2, locate his chair at the new preschool, Persimmon Learning Academy at 1121 NW 6th Street, the historic Bailey House, a pre-Civil War era House that is said to be the oldest in Gainesville, Fla., shown Monday, August 26, 2013.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 4:10 p.m.

Gainesville's newest preschool is opening in the city's oldest home -- and with it, the school's director says, a new chapter in the history of the house.

Persimmon Early Learning Academy opens today in the Bailey House, 1121 NW Sixth St.

"We get to share the history of the building with the children and the parents who come in every day," said school director and teacher Bonnie Bowman.

Persimmon Early Learning Academy serves children ages 1 through prekindergarten. The school has a voluntary prekindergarten program that follows the public school calendar.

The preschool is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and parents can register children for half days or full time.

Full-time tuition for 1-year-olds is $680 per month and $620 per month for 2- to 4-year-olds.

Bowman, who is national board-certified and was Norton Elementary School's teacher of the year in 2009, said she started the preschool so she could have a bigger impact on children's lives.

She started thinking about opening a preschool about a year ago, while she was still teaching kindergarten at Littlewood Elementary.

One day, she drove past the Bailey House.

"It had a for-rent sign on it, so I just called," she said.

The Bailey House is one of the few remaining pre-Civil War homes in Florida, Bowman said. It was built by slave labor between 1850 and 1854 and was the home of Maj. James B. Bailey and his wife, Mary, who was a teacher.

Bowman said until she started talking to the current owner, she never knew the history of the house, which sits just off busy Northwest Sixth Street.

"I think it's important that people know what it is and that it's here," she said.

As for the school, Bowman said, about 20 families have shown an interest so far. Persimmon Early Learning Academy is licensed for 54 students but probably will cap enrollment at 45, she said.

Nonprofit group Florida Organic Growers will plant gardens at the school this week, and gardening will be a part of each child's day, Bowman said. Food from the organic gardens will be used in weekly cooking products.

The school, meanwhile, will use only plant-based disinfectants to keep the building's interior clean.

Bowman said her goal for Persimmon's first year is to see a diverse population of families enroll and get involved. She said she also wants to host events for the community, and possibly open the school for tours.

The preschool has all the standard implements in its five classrooms -- desks, chalkboards, toys and books -- along with original Civil War-era doors and windows, crown moldings and heavy wooden furniture.

"It's beautiful," said Jamie Taylor, one of five teachers hired by Bowman.

Taylor will be working as an assistant to a full-time teacher and said she's looking forward to working on arts and crafts and science projects with the children.

"I'm excited to start working with the kids," she said.

Bowman said together, her teachers come with a broad background in teaching, and they are all mothers.

Some worked with Bowman all summer, painting, cleaning and decorating the interior of the house, which was empty for eight years. Previously, the building housed a community center and a nursing home.

"We're just ready to have kids in here," Bowman said. "We've worked really hard to get it ready."

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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