It was nearly four decades ago that the Education Department established an outstanding preschool program at California Lutheran College. The laughter of toddlers resonating from the former B.E. Albertson home on the north campus introduced a new dimension to CLC’s commitment to lifelong learning.
Now, 37 years and more than 2,500 preschoolers later, the House on the Hill has been transformed into the Fredrickson Family Early Childhood Center, a brand spanking new modern facility located on Campus Drive.
In the old House on the Hill, handprints in concrete formed a tree, marking the preschool’s opening in 1974. Many hands since then have helped grow and sustain the school as a highly regarded community model for early childhood education. Some of those hands include the talented, energetic directors who have guided the school until today.
Founding Director: Margaret Lucas
To hear Margaret Lucas tell it, “Every one of my jobs has been starting something.”
She first started a lab school at Mansfield College in Pennsylvania. When she married and her Navy husband was sent to Newport, R.I., Lucas converted an orphanage to a day care center for United Way. When the Navy moved the family to Port Hueneme, she answered a job ad in the newspaper and began teaching at CLC. The opportunity soon arose for her to start something new once again.
Lucas, who became the first CLU preschool director, was the right person at the right time. Her experience plus the information gleaned in a project by graduate student Anne Purvis, M.A. ’78, laid the groundwork for the initial preschool program.
The House on the Hill soon became the place where undergraduate students came for observation as part of their child development classes and graduate students taught under Lucas’ supervision. Many of the project assignments in Lucas’ classes were incorporated into the preschool curriculum. Over time, Lucas and her students developed rich curricular materials, a workshop, publications, and training for other preschool teachers in the area.
In 1978, her husband was transferred to the D.C. area, and Lucas was hired to develop a preschool program for the Army.
“A lot of seeds sown during those days [at CLC] are still being used throughout the country,” she said. She now helps administer Army programs all over the world, with 150 new childcare centers under construction.
A Change of Direction: Joy Brooks
With Lucas’ departure, Ingrid Tiegel was named interim director, and Carol Rodning-Otteson, who also taught in CLC’s Education Department, followed as director in 1979.
Rodning-Otteson served as a change agent, guiding the school toward a more Christian focus. She and assistant director Joy Brooks, M.A. ’82, started infant and parent classes, toddler and parent classes, toddler mommies’ morning out and extended child care.
In 1985, Brooks became director, and the preschool continued to flourish. Brooks recalls that the school was so much in demand that many parents asked to be put on the waiting list before their babies were born
“In fact, one woman who was considering conceiving contacted me to see what the chances of her child being accepted to the center would be,” she noted.
The wait list for the school continues today, with new parents lining up for a spot for their infants.
Brooks helped the school achieve accreditation in 1994 and developed and implemented the curriculum that helps each child flourish socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually. The current curriculum at the preschool was derived from her master’s thesis titled “Nurturing God’s Child,” which was later published by Augsburg Fortress Press.
For Brooks, the House on the Hill became a family affair. Her son and six of her grandchildren have attended the preschool, and her parents supported the preschool financially.
A New Home: Elaine Davis
After 20 years with the preschool, Brooks retired in 2000, and Elaine Davis, M.A. ’82, was named interim director, becoming its director in 2001. Once again, the transition was a smooth one – Davis had been teaching at the center for 14 years.
“I inherited a program that was well run and well respected,” Davis said. “It was very easy to step in because it was already an established program, well thought of in the community.”
New curricular materials have been added through the years, but the basic focus is still on meeting the developmental needs of each child, Davis noted. The new outdoor environment [at the new facility] with the emphasis on reconnecting children to nature is one example of making a change based on new research in the early childhood field, she added.
For Davis, like her predecessor, working at the preschool has involved the whole family. Davis’ daughter went to the preschool, and now her grandson attends.
For the Children
Davis is the first director to serve in the new Fredrickson Family Early Childhood Center, which she lovingly helped plan, watched grow and considers a dream come true.
The center, which provides double the space of the previous house, boasts a child-sized island in the kitchen, child-sized bathroom fixtures and even a special children’s door for entering the building. The outdoor area has a three-tiered climbing structure, a slide built into the hillside, a tire swing, garden beds and a meandering creek.
The well-loved Katie’s House, built by the Conejo Valley Rotary Club in memory of preschool student Katie Joy Motley on the old site, is being duplicated in a new playhouse at the new site, also to be named Katie’s House.
Lisa’s Corner, another innovation featuring special literacy initiatives, including window seats and reading lofts for different age groups and a book rack with materials just for parents, was made possible through a gift from CLU regent Joan Young, her husband, Richard, and their family in memory of their daughter Lisa.
Even the infant room, which has space for six children aged 3 to 18 months, has a “hideaway cube” the children can crawl into with their stories.
“I just love what I do,” Davis reflects. “I love the challenges, the new families coming in, new children. This is part of our stewardship, the way we serve for God. It’s part of our ministry to serve the children and families.”
What Parents Say
“Both of my children attended House on the Hill Preschool and the experience, quite frankly, spoiled them for any other educational experience.” (1981)
Beverly Merrill Kelley, Professor of Communication; mother of Brendan Kelley ’02 and Trevor Kelley ’04
“My husband and I have been delighted to watch the growth and happiness of our children at the preschool – it has been one of the best parts of my experience at CLU.” (1987)
Linda Ritterbush, Professor of Environmental Science/Geology; mother of Kristine (Ritterbush ’04) Rodriguez and Kathleen Ritterbush ’06
“As a parent, there are two wonderful benefits. One is just the proximity – my children are close to me. But more importantly is the fact that the people who work there are all so professional and give the best quality care possible.” (2006)
Michele LeBlanc, Associate Professor of Exercise Science
“The CLU preschool is an enormous benefit to CLU employees. We know our children are just two minutes away, being cared for by people of faith and integrity.” (2005)
Mary Olson, General Manager of KCLU
“The teachers are fantastic. They love the kids. They love their jobs. They seem to enjoy each other, in what is a nice community of teachers. They have a thoughtfully articulated program where kids are encouraged to develop skills and knowledge. It’s not just all play time – though there is plenty of that, too!” (2011)
Sam Thomas, Assistant Professor of Religion
“My son’s experience with the House on the Hill was an exercise in experiential learning, long before it was commonplace. It was so ‘hands on,’ even before that was in the educational lingo. I attribute much of his continued interest in learning and international travel to those early experiences.” (2011)
Jean Kelso ’84 Sandlin, M.P.A. ’90, Instructor in Communication; mother of Evan Sandlin, Class of 2012
“We feel so blessed to have the boys in such a wonderful environment, surrounded by such amazing people, particularly the teachers … It means the world to us that you all care so much. It shows in everything you do and say and this is such an important trait to model for our kids. So, thank you.” (2011)
Sarah (Lavik ’99) Holmes, Vice President, Frank N. Magid Associates