DANVILLE -- The 50th anniversary of Danville's first preschool, Valley Parent Preschool, brings back a flood of memories for hundreds of families who worked, played and took their precious little ones there for a first taste of life outside of the family.
It is the oldest and only cooperative preschool in the area that is run by parents and passionately devoted professionals, said Tina Eplin, a parent and the preschool's director for eight years.
"I was new to the co-op concept but immediately fell in love with the idea that I would work at the school and be a part of (my son's) learning and would have a chance to see him interact with other children," Eplin says.
The upcoming anniversary celebration is open to all parents, alumni and anyone who want to learn more about the nature and history of the unusual school.
Valley Parent Preschool began when parents formed a cooperative nonprofit and hired a professional director in Alamo in 1962. By 1965, classes moved to the Sunday school wing of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Danville until spring of 1995, when St. Timothy's leadership decided to develop a faith-based preschool of its own.
After 30 years in one spot, finding an ideal new location became a challenge. Farrell Virta, the preschool's president at the time, "spearheaded the efforts to ensure that this 'Jewell' of Danville preschools, as it was called in the newspapers, found a new home," said Diana McGregor, director
In fall of 1995, a single-family home at 925 Camino Ramon was chosen and preschool families faced the daunting challenge of getting a loan and paying a mortgage, after years of nominal rent.
A local lender authorized a secured loan, and more funds were raised from "membership loans" and donations and fundraising led by former school Directors Naomi Zipkin and Paula Sledge.
"Assistant Director Sue Corsiglia and teachers Jan Noonan and Mary Scouten, with the help of member families, donated money, services and hours and hours of labor," McGregor recalls. "It took a big leap of faith from the members to make this financial commitment."
Among those who stepped up to help were Danville Councilmember Newell Arnerich, who provided architectural services, and Linda Gates, of Gates and Associates, who helped with landscape, environmental and playground design.
"Ron Hazelton, of 'The House Doctor' television program, came with his crew to help install fencing for the front of the school," McGregor notes. "The community rallied around us."
Over the years, the school has grown and changed with the times, but the original play-based learning philosophy and community spirit continue to thrive. Regular activities include art, science, music, storytelling, puppets, cooking, math, gardening, building and sewing.
Current Director Sarah Bradford began her relationship with the school as a parent for four years, then served as a teacher for three years before assuming the director's duties in July.
Today the school provides preschool, prekindergarten and kinderprep classes to 78 children and offers a teacher-to-student ratio of one-to-three. Dads and grandfathers have joined the ranks of co-op volunteers, and families using the co-op welcome those who simply prefer to pay.
"While our activities change from year to year based on the interests of the children and teachers, we have always offered a play-based, developmental program," Bradford says. "We believe children learn best through hands-on experiences!"
Today's enthusiastic parents continue to infuse the school with its sense of history and future promise. "Valley Parent means so much to so many," preschooler parent Briana Vogt comments. "We want everyone to know how happy we are to be celebrating with the community."
The description "Jewell" has become "Gem," but the concept of valuable treasure remains. "Our school is the 'Gem of Danville.' It has been going strong for 50 years and I hope it continues for many, many more," Eplin says.
Director Bradford remarks, "I'm so thankful to the 50 years of parents, teachers, and children that came before me. Their shared vision created something much bigger than a preschool; it created a thriving community and a magical place for children. I feel so fortunate to be a part of it!"
Past director McGregor says she is looking forward to reminiscing, "There are so many people who have helped make the school the wonderful parent cooperative preschool program it is today."
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.
What: Valley Parent Preschool 50th anniversary celebration
When: 1 to 4 p.m. May 19
Where: 935 Camino Ramon, Danville
Who: For alumni, teachers, directors, students and parents