In 1933, one year after the founding of Bennington College, a nursery school was started on the campus to provide college students with the opportunity for direct observation and experience with young children. The school was also a link between the College and the community as most of the children enrolled in the school were from the surrounding towns.
The Nursery School was housed in Cricket Hill for several years before relocating to a building between the College’s Library and Maintenance buildings in 1939.The Nursery School was one of the few schools for young children in the community.
In 1973, with the addition of an all-day preschool for threes and fours, as well as a preschool program for children with developmental disabilities, the Nursery School became the Early Childhood Center. At that time, there was no other program for children with special needs under the age of six in the Bennington area. When the public schools began to provide programs for children with developmental difficulties, the Center offered a mainstream program for those children who could benefit from learning within a typical preschool classroom. In 1982, the Center started a Twos group in the space previously used for the Individual Learning Program.
Parent fundraising and volunteering over the years made possible many building renovations and additions, as well as program enhancements. The years 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1989 and 1992 saw spaces improved and expanded to give children room to grow as the program expanded to include Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and expanded afternoon opportunities. The playgrounds benefitted from parental involvement as well, including the construction of a wooden dinosaur, designed and built by one of the Center mothers.
In 2003, the Center earned accreditation from NAEYC (the National Association for the Education of Young Children), recognizing it as an excellent preschool program. This prestigious recognition has been achieved by approximately 7% of early childhood programs. NAEYC accreditation is a rigorous, voluntary process by which early childhood programs demonstrate that they meet national standards of excellence. In 2008 the Early Childhood Center became one of the first Early Childhood programs nationally to achieve accreditation under the new more stringent NAEYC criteria.
2008 saw the Center celebrate its 75th anniversary. It was applauded for its innovation in programming including a second language program, ongoing gardening/nutrition learning, and emergent curriculum. Recent initiatives included a partnership with Shaftsbury School District to provide placements for their pre-kindergarten children, continued development of the playground with the teaching garden, rebuilt treehouse, and a play/performance stage.
In June 2009 a core group of staff, parents and friends created the Bennington Early Childhood Center after Bennington College decided to close the program due to their inability to continue to provide structural support to the Center. Space was rented on Harwood Hill and opened with 2 classrooms in the fall of 2009.
In July 2010 the program expanded to three classrooms and in September 2012 the program expanded to four classrooms. In May 2016 the Harwood Hill property was purchased and became the permanent home of the BECC! In June of 2016 renovations were started to create a fifth classroom and make the building more energy efficient. The program continues to be committed to fostering the education of the children of the Bennington community by providing opportunities and experiences to meet their needs and interests.