The kid grows up: Nursery school turns a proud 20


June 10, 1994|By KATHY SUTPHIN

On Sunday, class will be in session at St. James Nursery School for hundreds of former pupils who attended the popular Mount Airy preschool program from 1974 to the present.

Coordinating the "Homecoming Celebrating St. James Nursery School's First 20 Years" is Mount Airy resident Ellen Bonde. Mrs. Bonde, who has served as preschool director since 1987, is anxious to spread the word about the event to all of St. James' former students, aides and staff members.

A roster with the names of all known St. James Nursery School students will be displayed at the open house. "We have been collecting class pictures for every class that attended the school," said Mrs. Bonde. "We hope that our alumni will enjoy seeing what they looked like when they were 3- and 4-year-olds."

The open house will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 12 at 204 N. Main St. in the facilities of St. James Episcopal Church. The church started the preschool and has enthusiastically continued its sponsorship of the program.

"The church is wonderfully supportive of everything that we do," said Mrs. Bonde.

Planning the event and attempting to contact former alumni and staff have been among the challenges and rewards Mrs. Bonde has faced during her tenure with St. James Nursery School.

For Mrs. Bonde, the job has provided a great opportunity to use her training and experience as a early childhood specialist while allowing her the flexibility to be supportive of her own children's activities. She and husband, Chip, have two daughters -- Beth, 18, and Rene, 13. Both girls are active in 4-H and raise and show rabbits.

From handling class assignments to issuing an annual "State of the Nursery" report to the church's five-member school board, Mrs. Bonde packs many varied duties into a part-time job.

She serves as the personnel supervisor, the complaint department for eight staff members and numerous parents, trip planner, guest speaker coordinator, library liaison, purchasing agent, errand expeditor and occasional "handywoman."

Mrs. Bonde said she is the first one to know when something goes wrong, from burned-out light bulbs to overflowing toilets. "I'm never sure what a day will bring," she added.

A duty Mrs. Bonde enjoys most is working with the students when she substitutes for a classroom teacher. "The kids are so cute . . . so fresh," she said. "One of the real rewarding things is knowing that we have provided preschool experiences to some children who otherwise would not have the opportunity."

Donations from parents of former students and St. James Episcopal Church have made possible a tuition assistance program, she explained. "I feel that one year of preschool is really important to kids." she said. "The church and the people who run the school agree."

The creation of the preschool was the product of a joint effort between the late Rev. John Sivley, pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in the early 1970s, and the late Diane Haight Buckman, a young mother of two and a trained educator.

When Mr. Sivley came to Mount Airy, he believed that a nursery school would be a community service while providing income for the small congregation's coffers, according to Mrs. Bonde. Mrs. Buckman, who drove her children to a Frederick preschool because none was available locally, believed that Mount Airy should have a nursery school.

"We don't know how their paths crossed," added Mrs. Bonde.

Fire and health codes presented many obstacles to the creation of St. James Nursery School and required time and money, said Mrs. Bonde. "It took them a long time before they could open the doors," she said. "In the very beginning, aides volunteered in exchange for tuition breaks."

Mrs. Bonde credits the preschool's growth and popularity to a curriculum that was in place well before she took over as director. It is "time-tested and proves to be successful," she said. "Our graduates are really ready for the school experience."

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