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Reimagining & Restructuring at The Nest Nursery School: A Pandemic Silver Lining

By Mandy Palmer and Kristi Cameron, Co-Founders, The Nest Nursery School

The Nest Nursery School is a not-for-profit early childhood school located in Grant Park. In the 2021-2022 school year, the Nest is celebrating ten years of caring for and educating young children in Southeast Atlanta! As we begin our second decade, we have been afforded a unique opportunity to reflect on The Nest’s vision and mission. This reflection has led us to adopt a new organizational structure for the 2021-22 school year (which we describe in more detail below). We are excited about the ways that we believe these changes will benefit the children, educators, and families that are a part of The Nest community.

The opportunity for reflection was unexpected, as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the temporary closing of The Nest in March 2020. During the three months the school was closed, in the quiet that ensued, our school community began reconsidering the way The Nest had been structured since its opening in August 2011. The sudden stillness of the moment also gave an unprecedented time for reflection on the role and purpose of early childhood education.

When The Nest re-opened in June 2020, COVID-19 protocols required the school to operate for fewer hours per day, with decreased class sizes, and with a smaller faculty. The positive difference of these necessary adjustments was noticeable almost immediately. Children were happier. Teachers were happier. The Nest was a more pleasant, less stressful, more nurturing, and more supportive place for the people who spend so much of their time there.

With this recognition, The Nest’s leadership team began imagining another way of being a school, with human-centered priorities that resisted a more “institutionalized” vision of early childhood education as primarily a babysitting service that allows parents to work. With this realization came another: we often made decisions at The Nest that were designed primarily to meet the needs of employers rather than the needs of young children.

The Nest leadership team began introducing a re-imagined vision of early childhood education to educators and families that reflected our observations about the positive changes we were seeing in the lives of the children at the school. The conversations among the adults began — challenging, courageous, and sometimes contentious conversations about the kind of place The Nest could and should be. Eventually a series of permanent and significant structural changes to the organization of The Nest were proposed. Over Zoom meetings and with community surveys, educators and families negotiated the changes that were being proposed. Eventually, a restructuring plan was finalized by The Nest’s advisory board. Three key changes are at the heart of the restructure plan: the school will be open fewer hours (from 52.5 hours a week to 45 hours a week), will employ fewer staff members (from 23 employees to 13), and will enroll fewer children (from an enrollment of 68 to 50). These three factors are intractably interconnected; a change to one factor necessitates a change to the other two factors.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote, “Transformation of the world implies a dialectic between the two actions: denouncing the process of dehumanization and announcing the dream of a new society.” The irony of the global tragedy of the pandemic is its silver lining: the opportunity to pause, to think, to reflect, to choose, as society screeched to a previously unimaginable halt. This was a time to clarify values and to imagine a new kind of reality, which prioritizes human needs over profit. In the face of what we imagined might be “our new reality,” we contemplated a more holistic, humane image of childhood and we expanded our vision of early childhood education accordingly. Being an educator is a political act that reverberates beyond the walls of the school.

We hope that our restructuring plans will more authentically connect The Nest to key values, like empathy, relationships, joy, and experimentation. Schools are microcosms for society. As with all schools, The Nest is a unique place that is constantly co-constructed by educators, children, and families to reflect shared beliefs about what is needed to create a healthier, happier world for everyone. As we enter our second decade of existence, we are hopeful about the possibilities of the future.

For more information about The Nest Nursery School, please visit our website at

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