Devon Kallen, of Northfield, reminisced as she watched her 4-year old son, Brady, play teamwork games in the hall of Linwood Nursery School, the cooperative preschool she attended as a child.
Now, decades later, the school for children ages 3 to 5 is celebrating its 40th birthday, and parents such as Kallen are working to guarantee more.
"I feel like it's kind of a responsibility of the (parent community) to keep this school alive, and because it's such a wonderful program, it would be a shame if we did not put the energy in to keep it alive," said school President Kate Geary, of Egg Harbor Township.
Both Geary and Kallen have sent all of their children to the school, neither considering any alternative.
"I was a student here, and I think it's important that parents can get involved in the education of their child," said Kallen, who now works as a physical education teacher at the Jordan Road School in Somers Point.
LNS, located in the back of Seaview Baptist church, began in 1972, after a group of young professionals in the area with a deep interest in their children's education got together. They modeled the play-based learning program after co-ops in California and similar progressive states.
Hence, the nonreligious school was to be run primarily by the parents - from daily observation to board member positions - said parent Laura Stetser, the public relations chairperson for the school.
Stetser, also of Egg Harbor Township, watched her daughter Madeleine, 6, graduate from the school. Her son, Jack, 5, is enrolled now.
After discussions with her husband, a special education teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School, she knew all her children would attend the play-based school.
"At first, I came here because of the reduced cost, especially with two kids," she began. "But it's really like a family feel. You get to know everybody."
The school's endurance speaks to this family-oriented model, one that has helped the school through its every battle, from a devastating fire in the 1990s to the hectic work schedules of parents.
For the past five years, head teacher Pat Rohrbacher has worked as one of the school's three paid employees. As a teacher, she witnesses the role the parents play in maintaining the success of the school.
"Here, they really all work together," she said. "What I found to be especially nice is the fact that any parent that comes in treats the other children like their own. That kind of makes it like an extended family."
As years pass, the extended family at LNS continues to grow, with returning parents, year after year. But as children graduate, the operation will get handed over to a new set of parents to preserve the "well-oiled machine," as Geary refers to the program.
And as the school celebrates this milestone, it is likely that it will live to celebrate many more.
"In 40 years, nothing has been dropped," Stetser said. "I think (the school works because of the) invested interest. It's your children's experience. You want to keep it going."
Contact Caitlin Honan: