Small school with 'big heart' celebrates 40th anniversary

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Spirits were sky-high Friday morning at the Masonic Youth Center, with the glistening waters of Greenwich Bay a scenic backdrop to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Buttonwoods School for Young Children, a small Christian school for preschool and kindergarten children that is aligned with the Buttonwoods Bible Chapel.

The class of 57 students serenaded their family members with spiritual songs that evoked childlike positivity and encouragement, and Mayor Joseph Solomon was on hand to give a proclamation to Joyce Ruppell, the school’s founder who has been involved since the very beginning and was the head teacher and director from 1978 to 2002.

“This is what it’s all about,” Solomon said. “Community and family. These children are the future of tomorrow.”

Besides the song and dance, kids had plenty of sweets to choose from, in addition to a show that blended magic and puppeteering and even a petting zoo. Staff, current and past, all joined together to share memories and look over a memory board put together that showcased photos and moments from the previous 40 years – including some coverage in the Beacon for various events and happenings.

“Everyone loves each other here. We’re all a family and it has always been that way,” said Ruppell. She said it brought her happiness to see children that once went to the school now bringing their own children. “Not a week goes by I don’t meet someone who went to Buttonwoods or knows somebody who did,” she said. She said that over 2,500 students have attended throughout the school’s history.

The small number of enrolled students allows for a kind of personalized attention that is difficult to find elsewhere, which is a draw to many who choose to enroll their children.

“You just get that one-on-one and they have such strong faith,” said Sandra Rivera, whose son Isaac attends the school for kindergarten. The number of students in his class? Seven.

“These children really know that they are important and special,” said Ruppell.

A series of teachers, most of whom have 20 years of experience and tenure at Buttonwoods, contributed thoughts to what the anniversary means to them. Some excerpts are below:

“In my 20 years at Buttonwoods School, I have been blessed to work with wonderful people,” writes Susan Noël. “Administrators and teachers have demonstrated loving kindness, patience, understanding, generosity and joy from day to day. Not only has this provided personal growth and pleasure in my work, but such an environment is most beneficial to the many children entrusted to us – and they are our main purpose for being here.”

“Buttonwoods may be a small school, yet we have a big heart for our students and their families,” wrote Joyce Bridges, kindergarten teacher. “Our students are filled with curiosity, imagination and creativity.”

“The staff is truly dedicated to their craft, the school itself and the children and families,” wrote Gina Murray, program director. “It is no surprise that this early education program has lasted in the community for 40 years. It is a sincere joy to see parents who attended here as a child come back to bring their own children.”

“Buttonwoods School is a school like no other,” said 20-year teacher Wendy Black. “You could say it’s a hidden gem in the heart of the Buttonwoods neighborhood. As soon as you walk through the door you can sense the warmth and caring attitude from the director and all of the teachers. It’s a place that feels like home.”

“I knew I wanted to help guide and nurture young children by creating and building a place where people love to be,” wrote Ruppell. “This little preschool is just that: a community of children, families and teachers who have come together to learn and grow…What has been the legacy? I hope it has truly been a happy place for young children to grow and thrive, to learn in a unique, creative environment.”

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