MODESTO — For half a century, she's greeted parents and preschoolers. Today, she counts doctors, lawyers, architects, police officers and a Nashville songwriter among her graduates, proving it's not such a small world after all.
Elsie Holton, director of the Small World Christian School since its opening in 1963, said the school's focus always has been on its small charges. "Children come first. That's it. Children first," she said.
The preschool started as a day care center, a need recognized by parishioners of the Friendly Tabernacle, now Centre Pointe Christian Center, next door on Sixth Street. Holton's husband, Ray Holton, started preaching there 10 years earlier.
Little by little, the church bought land around it and expanded, building what is now a preschool serving about 100 children, and a private elementary school serving about 25 kindergartners through second-graders.
"We are a Christian school, but we stick to the 10 Commandments, little songs," she said. Preschoolers don't need to hear church doctrine, just the basics, she said.
Young voices counted down "Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" in the background. Cheery murals with flowers and undersea scenes dance across the Small World walls.
Holton said the preschool has evolved to meet the need. It stretched to a 12-hour day to accommodate commuting parents, but shrank with the recession. Through it all, she said the school has remained a tight-knit community of families.
Her child went there in the early years. Her grandson as well. Assistant Director Karen Hill joined the school 37 years ago. Teacher Sandy Baumbach came 39 years ago.
Family life has seen some changes through the generations, but the rhythm and curriculum remains much as it was.
"They are taught. It's not just play," Holton said. Lessons on colors, numbers and manners include a little homework. "We do it to get the parents' attention. We want the parents to also, once a week, spend time with them," she said.
Someday, she and Ray plan to retire. But not quite yet.
"It's been quite a journey," Holton said.
Small World Christian School will hold a carnival from 5 to 8 p.m. May 17 at the school, 1024 Sixth St. Entry is free, with 50-cent tickets for food and games, geared to 2- to 9-year-olds.