Back in the mid 80’s, Ellen Khokha, a young working mother, envisioned a preschool that would support excellence in education for young children in a full time program that would support working families (a phenomenon that was almost non-existent back then). In time, with funding from local businesses, grants and a loan, Ellen leased an abandoned elementary school, hired one lone teacher and enrolled the first student of The Growing Place in 1985. From the very beginning, the traditions such as room flags, good-bye windows and talking chairs, so fondly remembered by our friends, were established.
Quality education has been our driving force from the beginning. We first became accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 1989 and have held our accreditation since then, meeting emerging practices and evolving our own approach. In the mid-90’s we began to study the values and approaches of Reggio Emilia, Italy, eventually sending our staff there to learn and grow from their experiences and practices in child development. Valuing education, we continue to offer our teachers many opportunities for growth, and honor them as true professionals in their field.
The first Dino Fair was also held in 1989, organized by parents, to support the newly created scholarship funds for families in need of tuition assistance and setting a yet another legacy for our program. From there, the buds of our fundraising program blossomed and we now also host our Teacher Appreciation Celebration, supporting our professional development, and have a strong Annual Investment Campaign that allows us to flourish with quality materials and ensure that our sites are well maintained and places of inspiration.
Support from our families has been invaluable at The Growing Place, as they have helped to shape who we are in so many ways: from one integral parent introducing us to the age of technology, a husband and wife duo that designed and constructed the project studio, to the long list of alumni parents and grandparents that have served as board members throughout the years. An active and strong community is a long-standing benchmark for our program that continues to strive and help us reach new potentials every year.
Much has happened in the 25+ years since our induction. Through constant efforts to improve the program and move our mission forward, Ellen and The Growing Place have created relationships throughout the community in Santa Monica, from the school district who we continue to lease our Ocean Park site from, to the local community college where we work with and mentor student interns, to the City of Santa Monica itself which funds our Marine Park site. While Ellen has officially retired her post as Executive Director, over 25 years of dedication to our mission continues to grow and thrive! In 2011, we welcomed Pauline McPeake as her successor and are moving our legacy forward, continuing to offer working families with a consistent, quality education that instills a love of learning and a dedication to community for a lifetime.