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Woodstock school celebrates its anniversary - and its founder

On Saturday May 31st, people of all ages were elbow-to-elbow in the garden and classroom of the Whole Child Montessori Center in Woodstock, celebrating the 30th anniversary of this pre-kindergarten-kindergarten school, and honoring its founder, Nancy Pribnow.

Under sunny skies, over one hundred students, alumni, and families were mingling and happily reminiscing about days past; catching up on details of children now in high school, or fully-grown with families of their own.

The preschool was started in 1983 in the family room of Nancy and David Pribnow’s Westmoreland home. While the school is nationally-acclaimed in the Montesssori community and beyond, Pribnow remains a humble woman, generous in spirit, hard-working, and enthusiastically dedicated to enriching children’s lives.

The story of this preschool reflects Pribnow’s vision and ability to create an environment where children learn, flourish, and become passionate about their school.

Three decades ago, the preschool – then the first Montessori program in Southeast Portland – quickly outgrew its family-room classroom. As word spread about the quality education that children were receiving through the instruction and care of Nancy and her principal co-teacher Shirley Harmon, the school moved into a bigger classroom space in the basement of All Saints Episcopal Church at 41st and Woodstock. Parents pitched in to paint, lay new flooring and serve on an advisory board created to support the staff.

by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Among those at the 30th anniversary celebration of Whole Child Montessori Center in Woodstock were: (back row from left) Dana Pribnow, former students Nathan and Lincoln Holmes; (front row from left) founder Nancy Pribnow, former teacher Ginni Sackett, and teacher Shirley Harmon.After four years, a further need to expand the school inspired the Pribnow family to purchase the lot and condemned house on it just west of All Saints Church. Today, the school, its garden, and the home built above the school, are a far cry from the once abandoned and neglected lot.

“The whole garden reflects the work parents have done on it,” remarks parent Ed Nieto, referring to a lush children’s garden filled with intriguing small spaces, beautiful plants, sculptures, and rocks. Over the years parent involvement with the garden and many aspects of the school has been an integral part of the school’s development and success.

Today Shirley Harmon is still teaching, celebrating her thirtieth year along with Pribnow, who has transitioned from teaching to doing mostly administrative work. Forty-nine children ages 3-6 are taught in two beautiful and well-appointed classrooms. Two of Nancy and David Pribnow’s three daughters are also involved with Montessori teaching and administration. Pribnow’s love for the school and its students was visible on this particular Saturday afternoon, as she hugged teenagers and young adults who had returned to celebrate some of the best academic years of their life.

In 1992 the school incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit, charitable organization. Several years ago the school became steward of an area in the Johnson Creek watershed, involving the children in removal of invasive species and planting native plants.

And for the past thirty years, the school has been involved in neighborhood tree plantings, litter patrol, and graffiti cleanups. Its annual food and clothing drive has contributed to Portland’s disadvantaged population. The school explains that children making connections with the natural world is an integral part of this thriving Montessori community of students, parents and educators.