Parents Nursery School

Our history

In 2019, we celebrated our 75th anniversary.

The early years (1943-1948)

Parents Nursery School (PNS) began in 1943 as the “Mothers’ Cooperative Nursery School,” formed by a group of mothers, on the campus of Stanford University. The co-op thrived, and with encouragement from Dr. Esther Clarke, in 1948, a group of parents raised enough private funds to purchase a permanent site for the school – a turnip patch at the edge of the City of Palo Alto.

Among the parents involved in the early years of the cooperative was David Packard, who co-signed the note to purchase the school’s property, and Flora Hewlett, who was one of the school’s first presidents. Others who served in supporting the school were Mary Lewis, who acted as director and Doris Grant, a teacher, both of whom went on to essential roles in forming the Head Start program.


Becoming a non-profit school (1949–1969)

In 1949, PNS was established as a non-profit school with the primary purpose of providing nursery school care along with parent education. For over 50 years, Parents Nursery School has operated as a preschool where parents work in the classroom and learn alongside their children. As originally established, parents also hold board positions and help run the school.

The PNS facilities are a testament to the energy and dedication of parents. The original building was constructed professionally with parents providing some finishing work. Van Juda, who later became head of the landscape architecture department at UC Berkeley, designed the original playground, which was built in 1965 with parents’ help. Over the years, parents have pitched in, again and again, to provide the funding, talent, and muscle necessary to renovate and enhance our school building and grounds.


The era of grandma Virginia (1950–2005)

From its start as a mothers’ co-op, PNS has grown into an established preschool serving a diverse community. For 35 years, “Grandma Virginia” Debs, PNS teacher and co-director, was the guiding spirit of PNS. Grandma Virginia retired in 2005 but still volunteers as “school grandma.” During most of Virginia Debs’ tenure, PNS was part of the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Adult Education Department. As licensed adult educators, PNS teachers taught both preschoolers and their parents who were enrolled through the PAUSD.


Parents Nursery School today

In the “early days,” mothers acted as volunteer teachers at the co-op. Today, PNS hires professional teachers who work together with classroom parents to provide developmentally appropriate, play-based learning for preschoolers as well as parent education and guidance. Each year, new families join PNS and carry on the school’s long history and proud tradition of educating parents and preschoolers in a supportive community.