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Rancocas Friends School: A Tradition of Caring

by Leslie Feldman

Rancocas Friends School provides more than just an education.

If you are looking for a unique school that believes in traditional learning and nurturing through personal interest and involvement, look no further than Rancocas Friends School.

The winner of a Best of Family 2011 award from Suburban Family in the pre-school category, Rancocas Friends School is the only one-room schoolhouse continuously in operation in Burlington County. The school is a place where pre-K and kindergarten children ages 3 to 6 years old can learn, play, express themselves and develop relationships. With two full-time teachers focused on the individual student, the school accepts only 22 children to maintain a small and personalized atmosphere.

“At Rancocas Friends, we cherish and embrace each and every child and our relationship with their families,” says Teacher Nora Dunfee, who has been with the school for 43 years. “We focus on education, but also provide our students with the opportunity to develop their creativity and learn how to care for and respect each other. With a flexible and multi-sensory program, we respond to each child’s individual needs and strengths.” Rancocas Friends emphasizes Quaker values of simplicity, kindness, honesty and respect for all, she says.

An Environment that Fosters Learning and Creativity
In a digitally powered world of laptops and cell phones, Rancocas Friends believes in old-fashioned educational values, nurturing children through personal interest and involvement, with a good dose of fresh air. Along with the school house, built in 1822 and still used today, there is an outdoor amphitheater for nature lessons and dramatic play and a new playground for the children to enjoy. Nora notes the children often go on nature walks around the school. “We stay away from computers because we want to encourage the children to interact with each other and the world around them.”

Special trips, like their annual science trip to Long Beach Island, are highlights of the school year. At LBI, the children participate in a treasure hunt on the beach and net small sea creatures in the bay. To learn more about tides and currents, they also toss bottles out to sea with requests for the finder to report the date and location found. One person who found a bottle in 2011 was the director of the Sedge Island Nature Center. “He was so excited about the kind of teaching we do here for this age group that he has asked to come and do a special program about the science of the bay,” says Nora.

Another project close to Nora’s heart is the Peace Ball Project. About eight years ago, in an effort to spread the vision of peace and respect for all, Nora created “Peace: A Hug at a Time.”

Children, parents and other family members were invited to write a note that expressed their wish for peace in the world. Each child then hugged a plush world ball before it made its way with the notes and photographs to another school across the globe. “We first sent the ball to England and it has visited many countries since such as Australia, Germany and now France,” explains Nora. “It is touching when we get notes and photos from other schools which have received the peace ball and passed it on.”

Emphasizing Parent Involvement
Whether it is coming to the school to participate in a program, such as Family of the Week, or being a chaperone for a field trip, parents are encouraged to play an active role in their child’s schooling. If a parent has a particular talent, the school welcomes that parent to share their skill or hobby with the students. “Family is very important to us and we strive to involve parents throughout the school year,” says Nora.

One parent, who to this day remains connected to the school, is Rancocas Village resident Gil Gehin-Scott. Scott’s three children attended the school back in the 1980s, and he and his family cherish fond memories of the teachers and curriculum. “We visited Rancocas Friends and within the first 15 minutes, we knew this was the place for our children,” explains Scott. “We liked the non-regimented approach to the school, and yet at the same time, the strong academics the children received made them well-prepared for future schooling.” Gil’s wife Pascale currently teaches a weekly French lesson at the school.

Upcoming Events and More Info
“Happy Days” May Fair, featuring classic cars, music, food, flower sale, children’s games and auctions, with all proceeds to benefit the school. Sat., May 12, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Strawberry Festival, with an exhibition of students’ artwork. Sat., June 2, 5-8p.m.

Registration for the 2012-13 school year is open. The school offers the option of a full-day program (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) or a half-day program (9 a.m.-noon). Extended care is available from 3-6 p.m. The school is located at 201 Main St. in Rancocas. To plan a visit to the school, call (609) 267-1265. For more information, visit the school’s website at RancocasFriendsSchool.org.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 12 (February, 2012).
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