Annual Preschool Showcase Offers Denver Parents And Toddlers An Educational Shopping Experience

Parents got angry; then, they got busy. They rallied and raised enough money to hold the annual event, not at the school building in Black Forest, but at Xfinity Roller Sports Arena in Briargate.

"We pulled it off, but we couldn't have done it without a huge group of funders," said parent Breanne Rinkema.

The First Step Preschool graduation at the Xfinity Roller Sports Arena on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. First Step Preschool in Black Forest abruptly shut its doors last week just two weeks before graduation. Parents raised about $1,500 and received other donations to hold a graduation for the kids. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette. 

Some $1,500 in donations made graduation a go for 26 children on Wednesday and 29 students on Thursday. They all received certificates of completion.

Another part of the tradition was salvaged - the potluck following the pomp and circumstance.

In addition to holding the event at the inline hockey arena (which discounted its price), students also got to slurp shave ice donated by Kona Ice, tote around fun balloon animals, and play on carnival equipment that another school donated for use. The center's four former teachers and removed director gathered at one of their homes over the weekend to sew new graduation gowns, using fabric a parent provided. Another parent made paper caps.

More photos:

First Step Preschool Graduation

The old outfits are in the school building, which the church closed on May 10.

The longstanding, award-winning preschool became caught in a dispute involving new church leadership, who parents said wanted more control over the school. The center's director was placed on paid administrative leave last week before being dismissed, and the teachers walked out. Rinkema and other parents say the staff was forced out for reasons that were unexplained.

The teachers issued this statement to The Gazette: "As educators of preschoolers, part of our job is to teach the children to stand up for themselves and also for the rights of others. Often in life it is not enough just to teach, we must also lead by example. We stood behind our director, and our parents stood behind us. We cannot thank our incredible families, past, present and future, enough for the love and support they have shown us throughout this ordeal."

The church moderator said the church could not operate the school without staff but would not provide The Gazette with further explanation of what occurred.

"It's still one big mess," Rinkema said. "But we have some good news with being able to do the graduation."

The smiles and squeals of the children told the most important part of the story.

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