MARIETTA - Half a century ago, two women who moved to Marietta from the East Coast when their husbands went to work at local plants and were shocked to find there were no preschools for their children to attend.
So they started their own.
On Saturday, Pioneer Preschool will celebrate 50 years of caring for and educating some of the area's youngest residents with a birthday party featuring music, art, a silent auction and the return of some of its past students.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Pioneer Preschool teacher Phyllis Miner leads 3-year-old students in a rhythm band parade around their classroom.
What children do at the preschool, located in First Presbyterian Church at Fourth and Wooster streets in Marietta, has changed over the years, said Phyllis Miner, who has taught there for 32 years.
"We just played when I started," she said. But "it's just evolved into what society demands."
Today, the preschool must meet state curriculum requirements in areas including math, science, language arts and social studies. That's accomplished in a variety of ways, including the use of puppets, hands-on activities, field trips and discussing everyday topics like the weather, said Judy Peoples, teacher and administrator.
If You Go
What: Pioneer Preschool's 50th birthday party.
When: 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: First Presbyterian Church, Fourth and Wooster streets, Marietta.
Who: Open to the public.
Entertainment: High Schools That Rock, 4 p.m.; Marietta High School Premiere Show Choir, 6 p.m.; Jody Haught Band, 7 p.m.
Other activities: School open house, student art show, alumni slide show, silent auction, refreshments
"They don't know that they're learning science," she said. "It's just what we do. It's just having fun. But it's exposing them to these things that they've never been exposed to before."
Children also learn letters and a few words in sign language and even how to count the days of the calendar in Spanish, after they've mastered it in English first.
In years past, the school had as many as 104 students, but that number has dwindled to about 50 as both parents go to work in more households, leaving families in need of all-day care rather than half-day classes, Peoples said. In addition, there are more preschool options available.
Pioneer offers four classes in multiple age groups for two and three days a week. Some students attend five days in an effort to get them prepared for going to kindergarten for a full week.
Miner is seeing more and more students whose parents she also had at Pioneer.
Michele Martin, 34, of Stockport, said she feels at ease sending her daughter Taylor, 4, to the preschool - even if it is a bit "weird" when she thinks about going there herself 30-some years ago.
"The learning atmosphere is there's a lot of one-on-one that they can give my daughter," she said.
Martin sees common threads between her and her daughter's experiences, like birthday celebrations, even if some of the traditions have changed.
"They had us in a circle and all that, and you were in the center of the circle," she recalled. "(Taylor) was a line leader and had a special hat."
Beverly resident Sally Wagner, 29, is a Pioneer alumna, as is her son Owen, 5. Another son, 3-year-old Ethan, is attending now.
"The price was right, and I knew it was a good program," Wagner said. "They definitely take kids out into the community and do a lot of tours. ... The teachers are wonderful, and they take an active role in helping each kid learn."
The preschool has been housed in First Presbyterian for most of its existence but is not officially affiliated with the church.
"They do special things for us and support us in a lot of ways," Miner said.
The preschool started out as Pioneer Nursery School, utilizing the Sunday school classrooms at nearby St. Luke's Lutheran Church three mornings a week. In the late 1960s, First Presbyterian expanded and the school was moved there, where it has stayed in the same room.
The name was changed to Pioneer Preschool in 2008 to better reflect the age group the school serves.
Pioneer is a nonprofit organization run by a seven-member board, most of whom are parents of children attending the preschool.