For more than 60 years, early childhood education and development has been a top priority at First Presbyterian Kindergarten. And it continues to be.

“It’s just a great atmosphere,” said the preschool’s longtime director, Nancy Tollison. “I just love seeing these children grow. I had several children I watched online graduate this year from high school who we had when I first started.”

First Presbyterian Kindergarten

First Presbyterian Kindergarten students Cora Blocker, left, and Elizabeth Powers play outside on the school’s new playground. The weekday preschool was established in 1959.

The weekday preschool is sponsored by First Presbyterian Church and is open to all children ages 1-4 throughout the community.

“The children love coming,” said Tollison. “They love every minute of it. I see children who have been here over the years and most remember me and the teachers and how much they loved and enjoyed it.”

First Presbyterian Kindergarten

On a field trip in 2008 to the fire station are preschoolers, from left, Penn Camp, Lauren Lloyd and Hartley Kittle.

What’s led to the weekday preschool’s longevity?

“The dedication of our church to provide for young children, thinking of the whole child,” said Elizabeth Melton, a member of the preschool’s board. “Not just one aspect of their development, but all development, and our church has just really thought the education of young children has been important. All of our church has been a great supporter of that and provided that through the kindergarten.”

First Presbyterian Kindergarten was established in September 1959. It was developed by the church’s governing session.

The weekday preschool started classes under the leadership of its first director, Mrs. James Ledbetter, and co-director Mrs. Winton Young. A year later, Young became director and served in that position until her retirement in 1973.

Since then, eight directors have served the school. The preschool has been under the direction of Tollison for 18 years and is overseen by the First Presbyterian Kindergarten Board, a committee of the church’s session.

First Presbyterian Kindergarten

First Presbyterian Kindergarten students, from left, Larkin Camp, Julie Day Warren, Sarah Frances O’Brien and Hayden Pillow perform a song during a 2008 end-of-the-year program. The theme was “God Bless America.” 

Tollison is an educator who taught in the public school system for 30 years before she became director of the preschool.

“I enjoy being around children and teaching,” she said.

Also a member of First Presbyterian, Tollison said, “We just feel like it’s a mission for our church to have this weekday preschool, and it’s great for the community. We have great teachers here, and I just love being around the children.”

The school is located in the church’s Van M. Arnold Education Building, across the street from the sanctuary. The age groups of the classes are flexible yearly, accommodating current enrollment numbers. The preschool is licensed and accredited under the Mississippi State Department of Health and undergoes inspections twice a year to retain licensure.

Each classroom is fully equipped, and the preschool features a recently updated playground.

“It’s just a wonderful playground that is state of the art,” said Tollison.

Completed in early 2019, the playground features a cushion surface and was designed by church member and social impact architect Emily Roush-Elliott of Delta Design Build.

“The kids love it. They were so excited when it was finished,” said Tollison.

The school meets each morning from 7:45 a.m. to noon — with an exception on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when its hours are extended to 1:30 p.m. for Lunch Bunch. The extended day is available for 2- to 4-year-old students.

First Presbyterian Kindergarten

Eleanor Guenther Braswell, left, and Allison Beckham Swanson attend First Presbyterian Kindergarten during school year 1989-90. 

“They can stay and bring their own lunch,” said Tollison. “The children, once they get used to it, they love it.” The children will ask Tollison, “Are we having Lunch Bunch today?” If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, she’ll reply, “Not today but tomorrow.”

“It’s strictly a fun time,” said Tollison. “They can eat lunch and play. Sometimes they might watch a little movie.”

Other than Tollison, the staff includes four teachers and an assistant. The preschoolers are educated through Abeka, a Christian-based curriculum that offers children a “solid foundation built on Biblical values.”

“Even though it’s a half-day program, we do a lot in those three and half hours,” said Tollison. “They’ll be ready for 5-year-old kindergarten when they leave.”

In addition to the education they receive, the students participate in a variety of fun activities, such as music and arts programs. They also go on field trips, trick-or-treat at City Hall and other downtown businesses, and participate in an annual fundraiser — the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon. “(The school) has been holding this event since 1995,” said Tollison.

First Presbyterian Kindergarten

From left, Charlie Braswell, Chip Powers, Audra Kate Melton, Brandt Barger and Sam Braswell participate in a past St. Jude Trike-A-Thon.

On the day of the Trike-A-Thon, the children bring their own bikes and ride around the church’s large reception hall for 30 minutes. The students ask parents, grandparents and local businesses to make donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Since the preschool began holding the fundraiser, it has donated a little more than $50,000 to St. Jude.

“We collect on average $1,500 to $2,000 every time we have a Trike-A-Thon,” said Tollison. “That gets the whole community involved, because people have heard about it and want to help out with donations. It’s a nice event.”

Eleanor Braswell remembers her days attending First Presbyterian Kindergarten.

“This is where I started my friendships with the sweetest group of girls,” she said. “We all are still very close. We all remember these sweet days and the teachers.”

Now a mother of twin sons, Braswell’s children also attended the preschool.

“I am so thankful my twins were able to have these precious years at (the preschool) before heading to kindergarten. They were fully prepared for Pillow Academy,” she said. “We are so thankful for this school.”

Melton, who served on the board for several years in the past and recently joined it again this year, said her three children attended the preschool and her grandchildren who reside in Greenwood were students there, too.

“I was involved with the kindergarten hands-on for many years,” she said.

From her experience as a parent and board member, Melton said she feels that the school teaches children not only academically but also physically, emotionally and socially.

“One is just as important as the other, and we’re very successful in that, I think,” she said.

Melton said she’s happy that the church and its members value the preschool as much as they do.

“We’ve been a real proponent for early childhood education,” she said “We thought it was important when I first came here, which was 50 years ago. We wanted to provide the best equipment and facilitate the teachers in any way we could so that they could provide the best program.”

For the upcoming school year, parent orientation will be held Aug. 6. School begins Aug. 10. Enrollment is currently open until all spaces are filled.

To learn more about First Presbyterian Kindergarten, visit fpcgreenwood.org or call the church office at 453-4680.

• Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or rrobison@gwcommonwealth.com.

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