Celebrating 25 years of Yarra Ranges Kinders

New CEO Gaby Thomson led the celebrations for YRKI. Pictures: MIKAYLA VAN LOON.

By Mikayla van Loon

Mount Evelyn’s Memorial Preschool has been serving the community for over 70 years and has been sitting under Yarra Ranges Kindergartens (YRKI) umbrella for 25 years now.

YRKI has just celebrated the milestone of a quarter of a century of providing community led early learning to little people across the Shire.

Although delayed by a year because of Covid-19, the celebrations on Wednesday 16 February were just as memorable for all in attendance.

Operating 21 kindergartens across the Yarra Ranges, with over 1000 children attending and with over 100 staff educating the next generation, YRKI have had a large impact on the lives of the community.

“It’s far too difficult to calculate the exact numbers of children who have been through our services,” YRKI board treasurer Richard Williams said.

“But it’s less about the numbers and more about the positive impact that we have on these children’s lives as they start their educational journey.”

What began as the Upper Yarra Children’s Services, with just four kindergartens, has now expanded exponentially to provide early learning to places like Sassafras, Mount Evelyn, Chirnside Park, Kilsyth, Warburton and many more.

Although YRKI was only established in 1996, some of the kindergartens themselves have been operating for 70 years, a history that only betters the standard of education.

Stepping into a new quarter of a century, YRKI also welcomed its new CEO Gaby Thomson three weeks prior to the event who said it had already been action packed.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed the most is these people, these people that have been bringing the magic and the passion, the dedication of the teachers and the creativity, it’s just really inspiring,” she said.

“They work so hard, they’re so dedicated. So I feel like I’ve just joined an organisation where there’s a really shared sense of direction and I really like that as a CEO.

“There’s that complete passion to keep getting better and better so the little people that we serve get the best service they can. From what I can see everyone lives and breathes that desire for continuous improvement.”

Ms Thomson said thanks to the long history of YRKI and the kindergartens that came before it, she could already feel the community effort that goes into raising a child, not just from teachers and educators but also parents on the committees.

Hearing from some of the kindergarten teachers in a video presentation on the night, YRKI takes the approach of allowing children to explore who they are, is focused on teaching children good environmental practices and giving them enough outdoor play.

Yarra Ranges Council Deputy Mayor Johanna Skelton congratulated YRKI on 25 years of excellent education and spoke from personal experience having put her children through the Belgrave kinder.

“I loved the fact that Belgrave kindergarten and probably all of your kinders have such a close relationship to families and have such respect for what they bring to the table as well,” she said.

“It’s not just raising children, it’s a whole community and everyone’s touched by the work that you’re doing…you’re such important pillars in our community.”

Ms Skeleton said she felt connected to the kinder once she went for an open day and saw how relaxed but in control the teachers were, as well as the approaches to learning.

“The reason why I chose Belgrave kinder…it just felt very perceptive, child led and all the things that we wanted in a kinder.

YRKI CFO Vik Naidu said it has been the work of everyone at the organisation, teachers, administration staff, governance and of course parents who have got YRKI to 25 years of successful education of young people.

“We are here to serve them. The message to the community is, please keep supporting us and we will continue supporting you as well for the foreseeable future. So together, we will provide the required education for the young ones going forward.”