Our History

It’s 50 years of big dreams, sticky fingers for Hiland Pre-School

Thursday, September 15, 2005

By Philip A. Stephenson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Over the past 50 years, 2,600 students have passed through the classrooms at Hiland Presbyterian Church Pre-School as they move on to bigger and better things. In recognition of this half-century milestone, the school and the church that spawned and continues to support it will come together for a celebration Sunday.

The Ross preschool has handled children 3 and 4 years old in batches of a dozen to 15 on a daily basis, with morning and early afternoon cadres learning, singing, making crafts, and working together for these many years. So long, in fact, that the current board chairwoman actually attended the school and many parents of current students are alumni.

“We have gotten to the point where we’ve had students of our students,” said Elaine Hartswick who has taught at the preschool for 27 years.

“We’ve seen our students graduate professionally as doctors and lawyers and various successes,” she said.

Perhaps most gratifying is speaking to those past students, now adults, who count Hiland as one of the reasons they’ve gone on to do so well.

“They normally say, ‘Well, it was the good start I got [at Hiland,]’ “said Hartswick.

Much has changed over the years, she said. The preschool was originally formed to “put to good use” the educational building the church built in 1954. Tuition back then was $15 per month and its first brochure lists its mission as providing “facilities for children to consume their excess energy and to satisfy their curiosity.”

Today, tuition is $75 to $95 a month, depending upon age and program.

Any mission statement now would have to add an emphasis on academics and kindergarten preparedness.

“They’re finding out that kindergartens want the kids from preschool to be pretty much academically oriented,” said Hiland teacher Carol Obrosky.

“So we stress the ABCs and counting more now, [as well as] making them feel safe in the community — and leaving their parents for the first time and getting used to children their age.”

The anniversary celebration Sunday will kick off at church services at 9:45 a.m. and feature past students, volunteers, and teachers, recognition of those who help keep the school’s scholarship program active, and a retrospective presentation.

In evolving over the years to keep up with the little ones and their needs, Hiland leaned on the support of the church, volunteers, and especially parental support to continue living up to its goals.

“When my son started in 1987, there weren’t that many preschools, but I was just really comfortable with the program,” said Marcie Hoffman. “But it’s the warmth of the teachers. They really love these children and really want to see them be the best they can be.”

Hoffman lent a hand to the preschool in many capacities over the years after her three children attended Hiland, serving as board president and organizing the school’s biannual children’s clothing sale which this year falls on Sept. 24.

“We always have a lot of parent involvement,” said Patricia Peters, who teaches 3-year-olds at Hiland. “Current parents are always involved with parties and activities.”

But for Peters, what makes Hiland special is what it offers the children.

“I just think all the kids can come in: any race, any physical problems–any problems, they can come in and be accepted at the preschool,” she said.

“That’s what kept me there,” said Hartswick, “the children. They were wonderful. It’s a place where you work on self-esteem and learn to play together.”

Hoffman agreed.

“You watch these little 3-year-olds with tears in their eyes, who don’t want to leave their mothers, but progress over those two years, growing and getting that confidence to say, ‘Bye Mom.’ “