40 years later, local preschool continues to thrive

A celebration: St. James preschool can be found at St. James Lutheran Church in Northwood. The preschool St. James class momentarily stops during playtime to pose for a photo. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Forty years ago, a young assistant pastor was looking for a preschool in the Northwood area for his son.

The Rev. Paul Andell and his wife, Pamela, learned that Frankford High School’s preschool program was full and found another local option too expensive.

So, the Andells, along with some other church members, decided to establish a preschool at St. James Lutheran Church.

“We were looking for a place for our four-year-old son in 1973, and it took off from there,” the Rev. Andell said.

Over the years, Andell believes the St. James program has become the “Cadillac” of preschools. Pamela Andell once taught at the school.

The Andells liked the place so much that their four children attended the school. Later, their five grandchildren enrolled.

For many years, the preschool was filled with children whose parents were parishioners at St. Martin of Tours. The waiting list was so long that some parents registered their children at birth.

Paul Andell ultimately became pastor of the church, located at 5185 Castor Ave. (at Pratt Street), and served until last year. Today, he and his wife live in Minnesota, and he preaches at a church in Iowa.

“I very much miss the people and the activity of St. James and the Northeast,” he said.

This week, he’s back in town for a very special occasion — the 40th anniversary celebration of the preschool.

The party will take place on Saturday and Sunday at the church.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Coming back is a joy.”

The school director is Eva Parisi, daughter of the Andells. Her daughter, Ella, is 4 and will be graduating this year from the school.

Parisi and others have organized quite an afternoon of activities on Saturday. There will be a Moonbounce, balloon art, face painting, miniature golf, cotton candy and popcorn machines, a student art show, displays of old pictures, games, prizes and raffle baskets.

On Sunday, there will be a 10:30 a.m. church service, featuring singing by the preschoolers. A reception with sandwiches and cake will follow.

Parisi is hoping former students come back for the weekend.

“We invite them to come with their families,” she said.

The celebration is also open to current and former parents, teachers, board members and church members.

Prospective students and their parents are welcome to tour the school, which is open to 2- to 4-year-olds. Half-day and full-day classes are available.

“Please come and celebrate with us,” Parisi said.

Parisi estimates that more than 1,500 children have been educated at the school over the years. She credits the teachers with the long-lasting success of the school.

“The staff is very dedicated to the church and the preschool,” she said. “The classes are small. It’s family oriented.”

The St. James community expects to have a good time.

“Forty is a nice big year to celebrate,” Parisi said. “Forty years of people are coming back. It’s going to be fun for all ages.”

For more information, call the church at 215–743–1828 or visit the Saint James Christian Preschool-Philadelphia page on Facebook. ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com