A Child’s Place (ACP) in Lincroft recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a garden party welcoming back many of its alumni and their parents.
Anne Ford of Middletown brought her granddaughter to play at the playground where the little girl’s mother enjoyed her earliest school experience. Mrs. Ford recalled the mock weddings her two daughters had in the garden. (A child’s personal expression through play-acting has long been a hallmark of ACP.) “It was such a special time and creative place,” she stated.
Three generations of Parfett family from Holmdel joined in the festivities. Nicole Parfett has very fond memories of her first school experience where she made many long-lasting friends. She now sends her son, Santino to the school, remarking, “There was no other option for Santino.”
New families were on hand, too. Karen Gyimesi of Fair Haven brought her son Jack, six, who attends the primary class program. “It’s a bit of a drive for us, but it is well worth it. I never found a school that put so much thought into its programs,” she stated.
A Child’s Place was founded 40 years ago by early-childhood educator Alba DiBello with a vision to allow caring teachers to guide a child’s creativity and curiosity. Seven years ago, Abe and Linda Littenberg assumed ownership and management of the very special school their son Matt attended. They have been steadfast in continuing its unique mission, where children ages 3 to 7 are free to explore their ideas and interests and develop in-depth projects encouraged by teachers that yield meaningful learning experiences.
Such creativity was on display at the 40th anniversary, where children invented a game for everyone to play at the festivities, with a large board detailing the playing instructions. The students created a special 40th anniversary necklace, emblematic of the tradition in which all children’s birthdays are celebrated. They fashioned 90 beads in clay (representing the number of their ACP family) and fired them in their own kiln. The children then strung the beads into a necklace which they framed in a shadow box and proudly displayed on the school’s back porch. Students also constructed a giant mosaic of woven ribbons, contributed from each child in a theme most reflective of their personalities or preferences. Participants partook of other activities and free play on the campus and in the bright, festive classrooms. Inside the school building, alumni poured through large photo albums, a collation of memories during their time at ACP.
Alba DiBello recounted the inauspicious beginning of the school in 1974 with two part-time teachers and two half-day classes. Her family all pitched in to launch her vision; something that took a lot of foresight from the original run-down building her children coined “the pink dump.” She stated, “My family proved to be extraordinary people as were my first teachers in the beginning years. Extraordinary as well, were the parents and children that came to us. We were an unknown and unproven entity back then and parents were asked to enroll their children in a very different kind of place. “
She explained how the school developed on its unique journey for decades holding roundtables twice a month for parents to provide feedback. They held focus groups to discuss special interests such as raising bi-lingual and bi-cultural families and exploring the immigrant family experience. Some values that have become indoctrinated in the school include multi-cultural awareness and anti-bias education. ACP pioneered a full-day program for four-year olds in 1984 and a full-day kindergarten in 1992, which the rest of the world is just now catching up in providing. Today the school offers three programs: Half Day Class for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds; All Day Room for 4- and 5-year-olds; and The Primary Class, a full-day, multi-age kindergarten and first grade for 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds that meets the New Jersey State standards for kindergarten and first grade. All programs are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Many of the staff enjoyed long careers at the school.
Alba DiBello stated, “All that energy which we created with parents, children, and teachers over these 40 years keeps regenerating—ACP (is) a renewal energy resource.”
The celebration was bittersweet for the Littenbergs however, as Linda’s sister and the school’s director, Barbara Meinberg, had recently passed away following a long illness. Linda told those assembled, “Barbara would have loved being here today to celebrate the school she loved so much.”
Alumnus Jessie Herbert and his wife Christina from Tinton Falls do not have children yet, but when they do, Jessie, a teacher in Middletown, asserts that they will go to ACP. He explains, “The new methods for teaching now being taught in college have always been done here.”
In one section of the garden, three generations of the Miele family from Holmdel were congregating. Dr. Gina Miele attended 1978 and her younger brother in 1982. Now her son Jay, seven, and daughter, Tatiana, five, are attending the school with their cousin, Max, who is six. A professor at Montclair State, Gina conducted a rigorous search on where to send her children for preschool, although she clearly had a sweet spot for the school where she acquired such fond memories. She explained, “I was specifically looking for a school that allowed my children the space to preserve the authenticity of childhood and allow them to learn through play, expression, and imagination and not sit at a desk doing worksheets or the letter of the day. Having done all my research, I found that this was the right place to bring my children. I feel my kids are getting the best education in so many ways to become the kind of people and citizens I want them to be.”
For more information on A Child’s Place visit www.AChildsPlaceSchool.com.