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Natick’s “My Brown Barn School” Marks 75 Years

The school’s 75th anniversary logo was created by Sally King McBride, WCNS 1988-89, an artist and illustrator based in New York City. (Photo/supplied)

By Cynthia Whitty
‘My Brown Barn School’ in South Natick, also known as the Wellesley Cooperative Nursery School (WCNS), is marking its 75 year anniversary this school year, Sept. 2020 to June 2021.
The pre-school is special for many reasons: its location in an historic barn, which dates to 1824; its emergent curriculum, play-based learning, which helps children develop intellectually, emotionally, and socially, while they learn important life skills; and its strong sense of community.
It is the kind of school where older students and adults often return to visit their teachers and where parents, who were once students there, now send their own children.
Jean Gooch, WCNS’s 5th director, said she gets a response to her social media posts just about every month from adult alumni who say they attended the school.
The pre-school program was founded in a Wellesley home in 1945 as a “baby-sitter group.” Parents soon decided to make the program into a full-scale nursery school. The school relocated briefly to Wellesley’s Sprague Elementary School before moving in 1947 to its present location.
Strong Community

 WCNS teachers (l to r): Ann Mann, Diane Sulser, Jean Gooch (Director), Riley Tourtellotte, and Francesca Adelman. Not pictured: Kathy Walker and Jess Holmes. (Photo/supplied)

Julie Safaii lives in Sherborn with her husband David and their three children, Britta (4), Kitson (2) and Porter (8 months old). Her daughter Britta is the first to attend WCNS. “Kitson will attend in the fall, and Porter will follow when he is three,” Safaii said. “My brother, now 37 years old, attended WCNS, as did several of my cousins and my two nieces.”
“WCNS’ play-based model of learning embraces what our children love to do the most,” Safaii said. “Britta comes home from school so happy—reporting back stories of her day that reflect a wonderful balance between playing and interacting with friends and learning new concepts, subjects, and skills. She is learning life skills that are shaping her into this wonderful little person, and I am grateful that this place and these teachers are the ones who will make her transition to kindergarten a smooth one.”

 Natick mom and teacher, Francesca Adelman, and her son Jax in front of Natick’s historic barn. (Photo/supplied)

A parent from Natick with 20 years’ experience in education, Francesca Adelman, a former student, has been a teacher at WCNS for the past year. Her son, Jax, is now enrolled. 
“Some of my fondest first memories come from the ‘Big Brown Barn.’ Two of my older siblings attended WCNS. So, by the time I went, I knew it well. After preschool, a group of us went on to elementary school together. We would all take the school bus from there, our second home, and back, like a big family.”
“I wanted to teach at WCNS because it sets the stage for children to grow into who they want to be. We use an emergent curriculum, self-directed, experiential learning in a relationship-driven environment along with play-based learning.”
“It is a place where I love to go each day and teach. I’m well-supported and appreciated by the director, the other teachers, and parents. It is wonderful to know I am enriching the lives of so many children.”
Pandemic Changes the Celebration
WCNS Director Gooch describes the effect the pandemic has had on the school and on its anniversary plans. “We are licensed by the state and follow all EEC [Mass. Department of Early Education and Care] guidelines. Our teachers were trained in safety protocols,” She said. “It was a big adjustment at first. But our dedicated and committed teachers have done a great job. We had no closures, and cooperation from the parents and students.”
The school, before the pandemic, hoped to hold a celebration with current families and alumni, but it is now planning a birthday party for just the students and staff. “The children created a tile mural as a gift for their beloved ‘Big Brown Barn School.’ We look forward to celebrating with more of our community in the future,” Gooch said.
Children from Natick and surrounding towns, including Wellesley, Dover, Sherborn, Needham, Medfield and Framingham, attend the school. For more information, visit, or contact [email protected] or 508-653-0958.