12304781258?profile=RESIZE_710xDirector Liz Ryan (l-r), teachers Kathy Yates and Cary Tobias, retired director Patti Daniell and the Rev. Paul J. Kane were part of the 60th anniversary celebration at St. Paul’s Day School. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Faran Fagen

The children at St. Paul’s Day School took a collective deep breath before singing in unison: “I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart.”

It was the apex of the 60-year anniversary celebration of the Delray Beach preschool that brought current and alumni families together on Oct. 29 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Since 1963, more than 1,200 families have entrusted their young children to the intimate classrooms at Children’s Village at St. Paul to begin a journey of learning, laughing, play and prayers.

“They say ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child,” director Liz Ryan said. “We believe that to be true, so St. Paul’s has provided the Children’s Village as the blessed environment for 3- and 4-year-olds in our community. We surrounded them with adults who help them learn to love school.”

St. Paul School’s teaching philosophy is to embrace the whole child, addressing social, emotional, intellectual and physical development while creating life-long learners. Cognitive, social and spiritual growth are evident in the way the children succeed when they move on to elementary schools, Ryan said.

In that spirit, one of the most important St. Paul’s values is “kindness matters.” Kindness awards are delivered each week to allow the children to learn what kindness is and inspire them to show it. The Children’s Village helps children build strong and lasting friendships.

The Day School is located on the serene campus of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on historic Swinton Avenue, two blocks south of Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. A small school of approximately 34 students, it allows for individualized attention to each child’s needs.

St. Paul’s reputation is built on word-of-mouth recommendations from parents and alumni. Kathy Yates has taught there for 25 years, and her children and grandchildren have attended.

The 4-year-olds’ classes fall under the state’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education program, or VPK. The Day School has been accredited through the Florida Association for Child Care Management and has received its gold seal for quality of care.

Patti Daniell was director from 1995 to 2016, when she retired. She succeeded Rolene Gent, who was the first director from 1963 to 1995.

12304786053?profile=RESIZE_710xLongtime director Rolene Gent with a class of children in 1972. Photo provided

Daniell first became involved with the school in 1989, when her oldest son attended. In addition to the low teacher-to-student ratio (six faculty for 34 kids), she is most proud of the fact that St. Paul’s welcomes all faiths.

“They come to the chapel because it’s child-centered,” Daniell said. “Our mission is to reach young children and create an environment of love and learning.”

Both Daniell and Ryan have seen the classrooms augmented over the years, with “centers full of learning toys and materials and child-sized furniture to inspire curiosity, exploration and imagination,” Ryan said.

While the children are familiar with technology (and use it frequently at home), their primary development is advanced through play and discovery and hands-on learning.

“We reserve use of ‘high-tech’ tools for special units,” Ryan said. “Our educational model is ‘classic.’” 

The biggest change came in 2010 when they started the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education program.

Though the school does offer scholarships, the addition of VPK opened doors wider to families that couldn’t afford the school and allowed the school to offer after-care. Prior to offering after-care the school was open only from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

All the kindness, change and progress were celebrated at the anniversary just prior to Halloween.

On this Sunday, in addition to “I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart,” the children sang “This is the Day that the Lord Has Made” and “My God is So Great.”

The children learn songs of all sorts each week in their music class, taught by Diane Gray, who imparts music terminology to enhance their singing.

Because the celebration fell right before Halloween, the children and alumni were invited to wear costumes. After receiving a Blessing of the Trick or Treaters, they were given special treat bags with candy “to start them off,” and a copy of the Blessing prayer. That was followed by a reception outdoors in the Day School playground and Trunk or Treat in the school parking lot.

“It was so wonderful and full of joy, and the church was full of life,” Daniell said. “Young children, parents, grandparents — all those generations in one place was so special.”
For more information about St. Paul’s Day School, visit https://stpaulsdelray.org/day-school.

For more information about St. Paul’s Day School, visit https://stpaulsdelray.org/day-school.

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