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By the Way: At 40, Durham preschool still cares a lot


This will be a school reunion unlike most others. The youngest of the alumni checking in will be about 5 years old, the oldest in their 40s.

On June 30, alumni of Care-A-Lot Preschool of Durham will gather to celebrate the school’s 40th year of early childhood education. They’ll be joined by teachers, parents and volunteers who have been associated with the school over the years.

Since its founding in 1984 the small school has taught more than a generation of little ones. In fact, some members of this year’s class are the children of parents who went to the preschool. Classes are still taught in a colorfully decorated church basement.

An outreach mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Durham, the school was founded by a committee that saw a need in the community for a preschool.

Kathy Hlavaty, a founding member, who taught at the school in its early years, said enrollment now is capped at 12. Today, Lisa Miller, a certified teacher, and Samantha O’Brien, a teacher’s aide, work with the children.

Volunteer parents are called in as needed for field trips or other activities, and sometimes mothers just drop in to help. In earlier years as many as 30 children were in a class; additional staff cared for them.

Maureen Henderson, the school’s first teacher said, “It’s important to know this is not a daycare center. When the children leave here they know the alphabet and their numbers and they are socialized. They’re ready to go on to kindergarten.”

Henderson holds a degree in early childhood education from Temple University and Hlavaty has an elementary education degree from Kutztown University.

Pastor James Heckman said of the preschool, “It’s one of the hallmarks of the church to reach out to the community. It’s wonderful to see the growth of these children. I come in to read a story to them on Thursdays and it’s the highlight of my week — and the children love it.”

The children, from Upper Bucks and nearby communities in both Northampton and Lehigh counties, attend school Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. until noon from September through May. The children, who generally turn 4 or 5 during the school year, are separated by age for certain activities.

There’s also a determined effort to get the children out of the church basement and into the world.

“They love taking field trips,” said Hlavaty.

These range from special to simple, such as making a trip to DeSales University Children’s Theatre in Center Valley, taking a letter to the local post office or paying a visit to a nearby dairy farm.

The children love meeting autumn head-on when they visit Traugers Farm Market with its Halloween decorations.

This year the children even got to pet some sled dogs owned by a resident.

Imaginative play is part of the curriculum, as are arts, literature and music, science experiments, cooking and outdoor nature explorations.

The Class of 2024 graduated during a ceremony May 23, and as is inevitable at such events, tears trickled down the faces of children and parents. Hlavaty said the ceremony was marred by the loss of electricity — “the fourth time this year.”

The reunion and 40th birthday celebration is planned for Sunday, June 30, at 10 a.m. at the church. A meet-and-greet will be followed by a picnic celebration at 11:30 a.m.

Henderson and Hlavaty said the event will take place rain or shine — and promised, “We’ll make it a rainbow.”

Those planning to attend should call 610-258-7509 and leave a message.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at

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