Playtime at Randolph College Nursery School
Jessica Childress Wright ’07 had no problems deciding where she wanted to work during her first year at the College. An alumna of the nursery school herself, she knew the preschool was a place she would gain valuable teaching experience—not to mention get to once again sing the school’s theme song, “Apple Red Happiness.”
What Wright didn’t realize was how deep the school’s bonds grew. While parents were picking up their children one afternoon, a mother approached Wright and said, “I recognize your face.”
It turns out the mother had worked at the nursery school when Wright was a toddler. “The next day she brought a picture taken when she was a college student, and I was in her lap,” Wright said.
For 70 years, the Randolph College Nursery School has provided Wright and hundreds of others with a strong early childhood education, forging lasting ties and making many happy memories along the way.
Helen Peak, a psychology professor, and Dorothy Pratt, an education professor, started the preschool in 1943. Eight boys and seven
Anne Langley was a member of that first class of students, and two of her children and three grandchildren have since graduated from the nursery school. She has enjoyed watching her family have fun while developing creativity, curiosity, and fundamental academic skills.
“It always has been structured to let children
explore their interests, as opposed to be told what to do,” Langley said. “The school presents interesting opportunities in a creative way that makes children want to explore and do things.”
This child-centered approach is the most effective for learning, said Holly Layne, director of the Randolph College Nursery School. “We always have had a commitment to high quality,” she said. “We keep up with the latest research on child development, and we change the way we do things accordingly.”
The program, which is one of the oldest in Lynchburg, earns high marks for its quality education. The Virginia Star Quality Initiative (VSQI) rates it as one of the best preschool programs in Virginia. Kimberly Secor Maddox ’87, a regional VSQI coordinator, said low student-teacher ratios—made possible in part by College students who work at the school part-time—make the program strong. “The interactions of the teachers and the children are wonderful,” she said. “The teachers play with the children. They’re not just sitting down at a desk.”
The school remains focused on creating a family atmosphere. Wright recalled hearing Pam Jones, who ran the school for years, telling her, “I know I’m doing a good job when they accidentally call me Mom.”
Today, Wright incorporates the positive, loving, learning environment of the nursery school into her middle school classroom. She said this opens
her students’ minds to learning and leads to many “a-ha” moments. “It’s just awesome when it clicks,” she said. “That’s why I teach.”