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‘The school that parents built’: Hoosier Courts celebrates 75 years

Apr 20, 2023

A preschool program that was born out of a barn on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus and propelled by passionate parents and educators is celebrating a rare milestone in early childhood education: its 75th anniversary.

Hoosier Courts Nursery School started in 1948, after IU became the first university in the country to enroll veterans under the G.I. Bill. Many brought families with them, so IU built temporary housing to accommodate the nontraditional students. This included a community called Hoosier Courts, where many residents had small children.

Some of the families living in Hoosier Courts approached then IU President Herman B Wells and asked to start a nursery school. Wells gave the program his blessing and permitted the parents to renovate an old barn to house the program.

A barn that served as Hoosier Courts Nursery School Hoosier Courts Nursery School started in a repurposed barn on the IU Bloomington campus. Photo courtesy of IU Archives According to an undated history of the school in IU Archives, “Crews of Hoosier Courts fathers labored Saturdays and available evenings, putting up ceilings, digging ditches for gas and water connections, painting the barn’s clay tile walls, setting windows and hanging doors, laying floors and building large equipment.”

“It started out as a pure cooperative,” said Carol Spencer, who worked as a teacher and director at Hoosier Courts for 26 years. “Hoosier Courts was started and run by the parents. The board was made up of parents, and they made all of the decisions, including doing the budget.”

Parents raised money for the school by collecting and selling old newspapers and selling eggs and candy. Because it was a co-op, they also spent time at the school caring for and teaching the children.

The program evolved over the years, and IU built Hoosier Courts a two-classroom building at its current location on North Union Court in 1960. It was expanded to add a third classroom, and the staff grew with the building.

The outside of Hoosier Courts Nursery School Hoosier Courts Nursery School now has its own three-classroom building, each with its own playground. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University Hoosier Courts is now a Level 4 Paths to Quality child care program, the highest level on Indiana’s child care quality rating system. The program is also accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Hoosier Courts serves 60 full-time students ages 3 to 5, and each class has two lead teachers. The school practices continuity of care, which means the teacher and children remain together throughout the duration of a child’s enrollment.

While Hoosier Courts is no longer a co-op, parents remain central to the program. Many of the parents are IU faculty and staff who share their interests and expertise during classroom visits. Over the years, children have gotten a close look at an entomologist’s insect collection and enjoyed performances from world-renowned opera singers and musicians.

“Having so many people be involved brings such richness to the program,” Spencer said. “For me, one of the most important pillars of our philosophy is parent engagement and working as partners with parents — because we can have an influence on a child’s life for two or three years, but of course a child’s lifelong and most important teacher is the parent. So, it’s really important to work together.”

Children and teachers gather around a table with several colored trays on it Amy Lovins, a co-teacher at Hoosier Courts Nursery School, shows children how to draw letters of the alphabet in a tray filled with salt. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Parents can volunteer in the classroom, which is how current Hoosier Courts Director Xinrui Song first got involved. She volunteered when her sons were enrolled at Hoosier Courts, then became a teacher’s assistant and co-teacher before taking on the role of director.

“When I saw Hoosier Courts, I wanted to be part of it,” she said. “This program is what I believe is best for children, and I’m very proud I can work here. This was my two boys’ second home, and now it’s my second home.”

Hoosier Courts will mark its 75th anniversary with a celebration from 1 to 4 p.m. April 29. The event will take place in the picnic shelter behind the school, at 1150 N. Union Court, and include snacks and activities for children. Families who plan to attend are asked to RSVP.

Those who can’t attend but would like to share in the celebration can write a digital card.


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Barbara Brosher

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