History of Our School

Updated September 2021

The Park Forest Preschool (originally named the Park Forest Day Nursery) was founded in the spring of 1967 when members of the State College United Methodist Churches saw a need to help educate neighborhood preschool children whose parents could not afford the cost.  The first classes began with fifteen four year olds enrolled in a ten-week program. After conducting successful spring terms in 1967 and 1968, the decision was made to add a fall term. Under the direction of Phyllis Crabtree, the school’s first director, fall classes began in September of 1968 with twenty-two children enrolled for a twelve-week term. In addition to the four-year-old class, a second class was started for three-year-old children.

Boy wearing a pirate hatDuring the 1970s and 1980s, with the support of many volunteers and local contributors, the tuition-free program thrived and many social services were added to support the children and their families. Parent education classes, an emergency fund to help families with unexpected expenses, free gently used clothing, and medical, dental, and vision screening, as well as nutritious breakfasts and lunches, all became part of the comprehensive program that helps children prepare for a successful start in kindergarten. In 1980, director Arlene Lukezic arranged for the State College Area School District to begin a community education class for parents to earn their GED diplomas.

Gloria Horst Rosenberger, was hired as director in 1990. Under Rosenberger’s direction, a third class was added for two-year-old students and the school term was expanded to fourteen weeks. The program curriculum continued to be enhanced, with school uniforms (brightly colored T-shirts) and field trips to Schlow Library, Millbrook Marsh, the Animal Medical Hospital, Harner Farms, and other local attractions becoming a regular part of the school calendar. Screenings for speech and other developmental problems were also added. In 2002 the school became an agency of the Centre County United Way. Rosenberger retired in December of 2013 after 23 years of dedicated service.

Barbara Geist was hired as director in the fall of 2013. Barbara worked to update our school curriculum to make it more developmentally appropriate and created policy manuals for teachers and a manual for parents of our children. Under her direction the school piloted an extended day afternoon program. Barbara was a strong advocate for the school, speaking regularly to faith and civic groups as well as writing numerous grants for financial support. In 2014, the school officially changed its name to the Park Forest Preschool, a more concise and descriptive name of the service provided. Geist ended her tenure as director in December 2017.

Debbie Lower assumed the position of interim director in January of 2017 and was promoted to director in March of 2018. Lower earned her BA in Elementary Education and a minor in Science from West Liberty University and has taken graduate courses with an emphasis on Early Childhood Education at Penn State. She previously taught kindergarten in West Virginia prior to moving State College. Lower came to the school with more than 25 years of experience working with young children as a preschool teacher and a supervising lead teacher at Our Lady of Victory and the Bennett Family Center preschools.

Susan Hills began as director on July 27 2020, bringing over 30 years of early childhood education experience to our preschool. Hills began her career as a preschool teacher and then director of different daycare centers, served as a pre K specialist/grant coordinator, and was a lead teacher at the Penn State Developmental Lab for 14 years. Most recently Hills was the assistant program director at the Family Guidance Center of Alabama for 3 ½ years. Susan’s compassionate and intuitive strength based approach to understanding and supporting families will be a strong asset as she leads and builds the programming for our children and families.

In 2017 the school celebrated fifty years of operation. All services continue to be provided free of charge to our income eligible families. The school has operated successfully for all these years because of the strong support of local faith groups, civic organizations, Centre County United Way, and individual donors, and dedicated volunteers.  The Park Forest United Methodist Church has graciously provided rent-free use of their building and grounds for the school classrooms, office, and playground.

Throughout the school’s history, the care and nurture of children has always been a priority. Staff and volunteers work tirelessly to help at-risk children grow and thrive, preparing them for a successful start in public school and life beyond.

Consider helping us to serve children in need by volunteering to help or making a financial contribution.