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An Auburn school for children under 5 will soon be 65 years old.

A 65th Anniversary Jubilee Fundraiser for Westminster Nursery School in Auburn will be held at Auburn Public Theater Friday, March 10. The school is located in a wing of the education building of the Westminster Presbyterian Church on William Street.

Jill Fandrich, a ruling elder and clerk of session at the church who has previously worked at the school, said Betty Groben, Barbara Clements and Phyllis Diephouse were all instrumental in starting the school. Groben ran a program for young learners at a school on Logan Street, Fandrich said, and when that institution closed in 1951 she taught at different students' homes. In 1952, Clements brought the school to the church. 

Fandrich said women were less likely be working then as opposed to now, and programs for young children zeroed in more on the importance of interacting with other students instead of education.

"It was much more of a learn-through-play kind of focus," Fandrich said.

Fandrich said Clements recognized a need for a permanent nursery program in Auburn, and the church essentially agreed.

She said that though renovations had been made throughout the years, many things — including some toys, such as building blocks — have remained since the school's beginnings. 

Fandrich said she believed the primary colors on the walls and the light coming through the windows added to the overall feel of the school.

"It has a very inviting, supporting, warm feeling to it," she said.

Director Tracy Blair, who first entered the school's doors in 2001 when she was a student teacher at Cayuga Community College, said the inviting atmosphere and friendly presence of the children immediately endeared the institution to her.

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"As soon as I walked in it was like I had been there for the whole school year," Blair said.

Blair was offered a teaching position with the school the following year, and though she left in 2005 to complete her education, she came back after several years — this time with her own children going to the school.

The school added features like universal prekindergarten classes and a toddler class for 2-year-old students as time went on, Blair said. She believes the school has continued to adapt to what the community needs from it. 

Westminster's program is distinguished by its intimate, supportive feeling, Blair said.

"That's the big thing the parents always say: 'It's like a family,'" she said.

Blair said parents are kept up-to-date on their child's progress and what they have been doing or discussing while at school, to make sure everyone is well-informed on both sides.

Blair said students often wait in a foyer of the church before school starts, animated over the prospect of showing teachers a stuffed animal they brought or something they did at home the night before.

Fandrich said she believes the school establishes a solid foundation for students to learn more in the future.

"If a child's early educational experiences are good ones," she said, "They're more likely to be successful in public schools."

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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