Christy Flahavan, whose daughter is just completing two years at Mountain View Parent Nursery School, attended the school herself in the late 1970s.
"I have very strong memories from the program," said Flahavan, "One of my fondest memories was spending time there with my mom, and all of my friends' moms. Our parents had a strong involvement in our lives, and I wanted my daughter to have the same experience."
Over four decades, more than 1,000 families have benefited from the early childhood program at Mountain View Parent Nursery School (MVPNS), which serves children between the ages of 2 and 5 while providing parent education through Mountain View-Los Altos Adult Education. Last Sunday, May 3, several of those alumni came together to celebrate the school's 40th anniversary. Flahavan was the organizer of the event.
To cap off the anniversary, the school's philosophy is reflected in a new book, written by MVPNS teacher Marie Faust Evitt: "Thinking Big, Learning Big: Connecting Science, Math, Literacy and Language in Early Childhood" (Gryphon House).
"The book is a celebration of the school's curriculum," Evitt said. "Young children love doing things in a big way. They want to be big, and they love enormous numbers and long words. Helping children explore concepts in a variety of ways widens the scope of what's possible for them. And learning is a joy because the children are so excited about what they're doing."
Designed for early childhood teachers and parents, the book is organized by science topics, ranging from tiny things like seeds and worms to enormous ones such as rainbows and outer space. Over 300 projects were tried and tested by the staff and parent helpers, with children providing vital instant feedback on how well the activities worked in a real classroom and play yard.
The book is illustrated with many photographs of the children. Writing and organizing the book took more than three years, said Evitt, who is known to the children as "Teacher Marie" but who worked for many years as a journalist, writing articles and essays on education, parenting and child psychology in major national magazines.
Another MVPNS teacher, Tim Dobbins, contributed original poems and songs as well as a wealth of ideas, arising from his creative projects with the children over 20 years (his own children also attended the school). Children's librarian Bobbi Weesen-Baer shared her extensive experience teaching story time and reading readiness programs at the Mountain View Public Library, and compiled an annotated list of book suggestions for further reading on each topic.
The cooperative spirit which helped the book come into being is typical of MVPNS.
"We have the most supportive, dedicated parents," said Claire Koukoutsakis, who has taught at MVPNS for 18 years and been director since 2007. "They're really committed to every child being successful. They also develop leadership skills that follow them throughout the community and through their children's educational years. Many go on to become PTA leaders, coaches, volunteers, city council and school board members."
"MVPNS made us much better, stronger parents," agreed Colleen Anderson, whose two children spent a total of five years at the school. "The monthly classes were hugely valuable to us."
Nancy Brown, who accompanied Flahavan at MVPNS when it was still on El Monte Avenue -- it has since moved to Bryant Avenue -- recently retired as director of Parent Observation, a local educational program for parents of very young children where she taught for 28 years.
Both were happy to get together with Flahavan's first teacher, Helen Cone, at the celebration last Sunday, and Betsy Nikolchev, who was director for 18 years, also enjoyed many reunions. Children's activities were provided by parents, live band Papa Hug played music, and state Assembly member Paul Fong presented a resolution.
The joyful event seemed to bear out Koukoutsakis' observation that "The experiences you have here you carry throughout your life."