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30 years of serving Mantecas young
Atasha DeGuzman, 3, at left, and the rest of the afternoon St. Pauls preschoolers, rehearse one of the songs that they will be singing during the service on Sunday when the week-long 30th anniversary celebration of the school kicks off. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Birthdays and anniversaries are usually one-day events. But this is one 30th anniversary that will be celebrated for an entire week to coincide with the Week of the Young Child that is being observed April 22-29.

Turning 30 next week with seven days of celebration on tap is the St. Paul’s United Methodist Preschool.

“The celebration will kick off this Sunday at church service. The regular Sunday service will incorporate the children singing. We’re also going to have one past preschooler playing a piano piece – Nora Murphy – who is now a second grader at Great Valley School,” said Preschool Director Belinda Berry.

After the church service, there will be an open house reception. The classrooms will be open to all the guests. Berry said they are issuing an open invitation to everyone who had been a part of the preschool for the last 30 years.

“We have invited past directors, teachers, staff and children,” she said.

Among those expected to attend are two people who served on the first preschool board, Frona Winter and Phyllis Kuesthardt, as well as former Manteca mayor Rick Wentworth who was a member of the church board that approved the launching of the preschool three decades ago, with Sandy Quaresma serving as the first director.

A tree-planting ceremony on the school playground also will be part of Sunday’s celebration. The Girl Scout troop that the church sponsors will be leading the tree-planting event. They will be planting an autumn oak tree.

This week, Berry and her staff along with volunteer parents have been putting together photographic “displays over the past 30 years of all the classrooms and the changes that have happened,” Berry said.

Every day through Friday next week will be School Spirit Day, with the daily activities to include a book fair. Special activities are also scheduled to take place on different days of the week. One special activity will have the students putting together a time capsule to be buried in the playground and opened a decade later on the 40th anniversary of the school, explained Berry who oversees a staff of  nine teachers plus a secretary/bookkeeper.

During Parents Day, parents will be able to participate in a number of sporting events that include bike races, baseball and basketball.

“We’ll be putting them through the ringer,” an amused Berry said with a laugh.

In addition to the daily Spirit Days and Parent Days, the school will conduct a canned-food drive. Berry said the young preschoolers will be collecting 30 bags of canned foods to help support St. Paul’s Food Pantry.

As someone who has worked at the preschool for 24 years starting as a teacher’s aide – “I was at the bottom of the barrel” – Berry has a unique perspective and wide-angle historical view of the growth of St. Paul’s Preschool through the years. She laughed as she pointed out that “my youngest baby,” Brian, who was the only one of her four children with husband, Tom, who attended the preschool, is now 25 years old and a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where he is now working as an investment banker.

Her oldest, daughter Nicole, also is now a colleague at the preschool. Actually, Nicole has been a teacher at the preschool for the last 16 years.

“It’s exciting because I’ve been here for so long. I watched the school change over the years. I’ve seen the facility change, and I have a teacher that was one of my first students,” Berry beamed as she reminisced while keeping busy with the preparations for next week’s celebration.

That student is Shanna Shupe who graduated from Manteca High in 2003. She actually returned to her preschool alma mater while still a Buffalo student and in the ROP program. That year included, she has been working at the preschool for 10 years. This is her final year, though, at St. Paul’s. She just completed her bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Phoenix and expects to receive her master’s degree in Education as well as her teaching credentials next year. After that, she plans to get a job as a kindergarten teacher.

“I have to grow up at some point,” she joked.

But until then, Shupe is enjoying her job with the youngsters at St. Paul’s.

“I love it here. I’m comfortable here. It’s like family. I love what I do and I love my job,” said Shupe with a big smile.

She refers to Berry as her mentor through the years. “She taught me how to be a teacher,” she said.

St. Paul’s Preschool is extending an open invitation to all past students, parents, and faculty to come and celebrate the special milestone with everybody. For more information, call the preschool office at (209) 239-5848.

St. Paul’s United Methodist is located on the southwest corner of Powers Avenue and East North Street in Manteca.