By Beth Treffeisen
Outside carts that usually transport excited toddlers to the nearby Boston Common laid barren as the calm atmosphere overtook the inside of Spruce Street Nursery School in downtown Boston. In a darkened room that is normally filled with vibrant students, kids were quite as a mouse as they took a break to nap.
Lining the walls, decorations, colorful instructions, and hand-made crafts filled the space showcasing how lively the nursery school becomes when close to 50 students attend each day.
For 20 years, the Spruce Street Nursery School has been providing families a welcoming place for their children’s first schooling experience.
“It’s a big deal when it’s your child’s first school experience,” said Leslie Rhodes the assistant director at Spruce Street Nursery School. “As parents you bond, and then you go out and stay friends. It’s a nice community.”
Spruce Street Nursery School first opened in the fall of 1996 at 20 Spruce Street in Beacon Hill. In 2002, they made the move across the Boston Common to it’s currently location on Avery Street, bordering the Theatre District.
Back in the late 1990s two mothers, Renata Pappin and Christie Guevin had big ideas to open their own nursery school after running a small family daycare in Brookline with their own children.
Before they knew it they were looking at a beautiful ballroom space in Beacon Hill.
“We took it on the spot,” said Guevin laughing. “We said, ‘ah it’s beautiful – let’s sign!”
In setting up the school the two women quickly realized that it needed a lot more to meet the necessary improvements required by licensing that they couldn’t afford.
They approached Mr. Spencer, the owner of the building to let him know they would be unable to honor their lease. Guevin distinctly remembers him responding with, “I didn’t take you girls for quitters” and lent them the money they needed to complete the work.
The school opened at first with only a few students, but quickly grew, and was fully enrolled by that following January.
Then in the early 2000s, Mr. Spencer passed away and Pappin abruptly moved to London with her family.
At the same time the building went for sale.
“We where at ballet one day with our children and Leslie asked if there was anything she could do to help,” said Guevin. “It turned out she did!”
Leslie chipped in, “And I’m still helping today.”
Over a course of a summer, with the help of multiple families from Beacon Hill, they looked at over 35 potential spaces for their new nursery.
But after some time they landed on their space now that was once filled with offices.
“The space was kind of raw. I wasn’t even aware there were windows,” said Guevin. “I really didn’t want to loose my ballroom in Beacon Hill to come to an alley that was once in the combat zone.”
With the help of their neighbors they raised enough money to get the space and renovate it.
“The families bonded in her school so they really wanted to make it happen,” said Leslie.
Now, their school has representation from neighborhoods including the South End, Back Bay, Charlestown and Beacon Hill.
On November 4, Spruce Street Nursery School celebrated 20 years at the W Hotel. There was approximately 250 guests who celebrated the school and the two decades of friendship, love, laughter and joyous early learning.
Friends from all eras of the school were in attendance, from the earliest years to the present.
“It’s really a balance in a small school,” said Guevin. “It takes a lot of energy to know every child and know them well – it’s a strong community.”