SOLANA BEACH — “You have to have children feel good about themselves, learn to make choices and be responsible for their choices so they grow up to be a happy adult some day,” Joanne Tranchina said.
With that philosophy, she and Victoria Holman opened the doors to Solana Beach Community Preschool in September 1986.
Last month more than 70 staff members, students past and present and parents surprised the founders with a 30th anniversary celebration at La Colonia Park.
“We closed early on that Friday and some parents said we should meet at the park so we could start planning for our anniversary,” Tranchina said. “I told them it wasn’t really a good day but I went anyway.
Being greeted by so many familiar faces “was just absolutely overwhelming.”
“I was shocked,” Tranchina said. “My heart was beating a mile a minute. I almost fell over. There were tears going down these cheeks. One student who graduated from college and lives in Los Angeles came down.
“It was a beautiful day outside,” Tranchina said. “Who on earth would spend it at the park to see an old teacher? How blessed am I?”
Tranchina and Holman, who retired nine years ago, were involved in early childhood education when they decided to start the preschool.
“We felt that Solana Beach had a lot of day care so we wanted to provide something else,” Tranchina said. “We feel preschool is very different. When we closed our eyes at night we knew we did the best we could to make a child’s day feel special and happy and be a support group for the parents.”
The preschool, which opened at the Boys & Girls Clubs and moved to its current location on Stevens Avenue 18 years ago, began with four children, but another 20 joined by the end of that first year.
Enrollment is now limited to 20 youngsters between the ages of 3 and 5 who attend one class either full or part time.
“The students are integrated because we’ve always felt that’s the best learning environment,” Tranchina said. “It encourages leadership. It helps the younger children have role models. And sometimes your youngest one chronologically may not be the youngest one intellectually or socially, et cetera, and vice versa, so it works really well.
“We’re strong advocates of that,” she added. “Children are wonderful and each and every one of them is special and you don’t want to group them. You want to let them each know how special they are when they walk through that door.”
While the biggest change to education during the past three decades is the addition of technology, Tranchina said her focus has remained on the importance of play and social and emotional development.
“I stick to what I know works for children, not just trying the newest thing,” she said. “You have to have children feel good about themselves and experience with their hands to learn.
“You can’t just tell them,” she added. “You can’t just have them look at a screen. You have to let them experience everything with science and math. We do all the prereading and prewriting skills.
“They are going to learn to read,” she said. “We make sure that happens. But what we instill, hopefully, is a love of reading and a love of writing and learning. So that’s what we’re all about.
“Clearly we don’t meet the needs of everybody,” Tranchina added “A lot of people want that technology in preschool but we feel children need to develop socially and emotionally. If a child can read that’s wonderful, but if they don’t get along with other children they don’t feel good about themselves.”
Tranchina credits much of the success of Solana Beach Community Preschool to the parents.
“We’ve always believed in children and family and fortunately a lot of other people do, too, and they supported us,” she said. “We get a core group of parents who are working hard at parenting and they tell someone and somebody else tells someone.”
After 30 years Tranchina said she doesn’t have any specific memorable moments.
“Every single child who walks through here is loveable in one way or another,” she said. “You want to take each little flower that comes in and help it to grow to its potential. Seeing that happen and watching them get along and problem solve without help makes your buttons want to burst.”
Tranchina said she is also proud of the relationships that have been created.
“I love the friendships,” she said. “People who have met here in preschool maintained these wonderful friendships. Even if the kids go different ways the parents have each other for support. I love that. And we try to create that sense of community.”
In fact, two of her current staff members are parents of former students.
At 67, with two grown children and five grandchildren, Tranchina said she has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I’m very lucky,” she said. “I don’t ever take it for granted. I’m going to keep doing this until I don’t get the joy out of it.”