Rutledge Institute Founders Attend Playground Dedication

Artichoke LemonsMay 17, 2021

Preschoolers, college students share gratitude for the couple’s support.

rutledge playground

With squeals of delight, preschool students tore through ribbons of crepe paper and officially dedicated Karen’s Cove, the playground installed last fall at the Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education.

The name is apt, said Cherie Sears, president of The Village Early Childhood Center, which provides instruction for children ages 3-5 at the Rutledge Institute site in Morgan Hall.

Karen’s Cove honors Karen Rutledge, who founded the institute with husband Tom Rutledge, Class of 1977. In addition, “our location is by the river, and this is a safe haven for our children to play,” Sears said.

The Rutledges, of Greenwich, Conn., were on hand as the children sang about their “attitude of gratitude” before sitting down on the playground to enjoy an ice cream treat.

Watching over the little ones was the most recent class of Rutledge Scholars, a select group of education majors who receive four-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees and on-campus housing while they earn teaching certification and a B.S.Ed. in Pre-K through Grade 4 Education.

Emily Zacoi, a rising sophomore, is spending three weeks in the preschool’s summer immersion experience.

She entered the Rutledge Scholars program last fall, thinking she wanted to teach school-age children. Then she discovered a real love for the littlest learners.

“It was great to be able to come out and work with the children in person starting in March,” Zacoi said. “I didn’t expect them to be so far along (in their education). The amount they already know really amazed me.”

Natalie Rickert, also a Rutledge Scholar and a rising sophomore, noted that even the program’s youngest children are learning to count and practice their ABCs.

Inside their classrooms, the children listened as Tom Rutledge read aloud a customized book, “A Day at the Rutledge Institute.” The couple watched as the pre-kindergarten class stirred up a squishy science lesson – mixing two liquids to create solid “string slime” – and clapped along to the younger children’s rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

Activities at the institute focus on STREAM: science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math. Income-eligible children attend the preschool and pre-K programs free of charge.

“I’m so glad to visit with all of you today,” Karen Rutledge said. “You are all learning so much – and it looks like you’re having fun.”

To learn more about the Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education, visit