Home Medford News Medford United Methodist Church Pre-K School celebrates 40th anniversary

Medford United Methodist Church Pre-K School celebrates 40th anniversary

In 1974, Medford was a growing community of about 8200 people, an increase of more than 70 percent over the 1960 census. Our village had the usual number of churches, banks, and shops, but most people didn’t anticipate the 100 percent growth it experienced in the next 10 years. Just like today, residents were busy trying to fit everything into their schedules and looking for the best way to take care of their families’ needs.

Medford United Methodist Church was also growing and looking for ways to reach out and serve the community. A nursery school seemed to be a great way to do that. The church had recently moved to Hartford Road to accommodate its increasing membership. The church was organized in 1821 and built its first church building on Branch Street in 1824, but had outgrown that by 1974.

One of the ways families take care of their needs is finding the right schools for little ones. One gaping hole in the area seemed to be preschools for the growing population of children. One Medford woman took notice, Shirley Coulter, a member of Medford United Methodist Church.

Coulter was not only a teacher and early childhood development expert, but she had also participated in the founding of new schools. She brought her preschool idea to Senior Pastor Henry Seese and got the green light to proceed. Joining with Coulter were two other interested members. Nancy Schmidinger, who played the piano, led music time and served as the treasurer; and Joanne Pizzitello concentrated on crafts. Audra Moyer, another licensed teacher, joined the group and went on to be the director of the school from 1977 through 1998. Marcy Russell and Martha Hetrick served as co-directors.

By the first week of March 1974 there were six 4-year-olds in class. The teachers were thrilled.

Coulter remembered, “Originally there were five girls and a boy; the boy only lasted one day. ‘Not enough boys,’ he said.”

Somehow another girl arrived and the teachers had their first full class. It’s a testament to their commitment that the team forged ahead with the idea.

By the fall of 1975 the class had grown to 25 (with plenty of boys).

During the second school year, the founders realized that they needed more help, so they enlisted additional teachers. At this point, bylaws were rewritten to drop the requirement that all teachers belong to the church, but added the requirement that all teachers must be certified by the State of New Jersey. The school has been state certified since 1974, with directors and teachers paying careful attention to the curriculum. “Right from the beginning the school emphasized kindness, sharing and respecting others,” Schmidinger said. Children were taken on nature walks in the private woods behind the church.

Today the curriculum covers pre-reading, math, science, social studies, social skills, writing and both fine and gross motor skills. “These concepts are presented in a fun and engaging manner to instill a love of learning from the beginning of their educational journey,” said Maribeth Lloyd, the current director. The school uses an evaluation tool called Gazel to gauge a child’s developmental age. Programs are offered for children aged 18 months through 6 years. There are currently 80 students enrolled. Staff includes the director, seven certified teachers and one aide. With a capacity of 110, there is still room for growth.

The school has committed to staying ahead of the curve with the recent addition of the Explorers Club, an enrichment program for pre-kindergarten students. Explorers Club emphasizes STEAM. Medford Methodist Pre-K School is proud of its 40-year history and is here to stay and embraces the opportunity to educate the next generation of children.

At one point in those early days the fire marshal noted that there needed to be an additional escape route in case of an emergency, so little ladders were constructed for escape through the windows. These also became favorite special places to sit if students wanted a little alone time or for a teacher to give some extra attention when needed. The emphasis for teachers has always been on supplying a little extra love, sympathy or individual attention — an important aspect of working with small children in a more personal environment.

Audra Moyer remembers how one young boy who had been an avid artist suddenly stopped painting.

“We were so upset,” she said. Upon investigation and some gentle prodding, it turned out that Mom had run out of room on the fridge, so there was no sense in continuing to build his portfolio. “Luckily, we were able to get him back to the easel,” she laughed.

There are several special events at the school over the course of the year, including a bedtime story “sleepover,” a Halloween parade, a musical play and a mothers’ tea. There are also several field trips, including Johnson’s Farm for apple-picking, PAWS animal shelter, Indian Acres and Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge.

“Caroline adored her time there and loved that she could play dress up, as well as learn to write her name,” Lynn Scheffler said. ”She loved her teacher, Mary Beth Lloyd, who was a constant in my daughter’s life even after her time there. I could see then the impact that this school had on my daughter’s early development.”

”During my time at MUMC Pre-school I spent a lot of time learning basic skills. Back then things like sharing and counting didn’t seem important, but I know now why emphasis was placed where it was,” Caroline Scheffler Gazzara said. “I also made lifelong friendships while I attended, and to this day I still visit a fellow classmate when I am in New Jersey. What the preschool taught me most of all was that no matter where I go in life those same morals and values go with me.”

Medford Methodist Pre-K School is proud of its 40-year history and is here to stay and embrace the opportunity to educate the next generation of Medford’s children.

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