First Pres Logo


Begun in 1959, First Presbyterian Nursery School located in the small coastal environment of Santa Monica was then visibly surrounded by rolling hills, grass, the ocean and mountains a short distance away. As with many cities, Santa Monica has changed over the past decades. In the midst of this transformation from a small town to a burgeoning urban area, the school has remained a place of stability and a reference point for considering children and early childhood education within the community. Enhancing this sense of continuity is the fact that many families return generation after generation, supported by teachers and staff who have been a part of the educational team for not only years but decades. There have only been four directors since the school began.

Situated on the grounds of the First Presbyterian Church complex, the nursery school functions as an autonomous, private non-profit school that welcomes families from all backgrounds and experiences. The school as an organization has provided continuity and stability in the midst of change, serving as a foundation and value to the surrounding community’s own growth and development.

Since the mid-1990’s, the educators and staff at First Pres, led by director Mary Hartzell at the time, consciously studied the quality education programs from Reggio Emilia, Italy, and other progressive educational settings across North America. Ongoing collaboration, dialogue and consultation with educators from Reggio Emilia, Italy, particularly with Amelia Gambetti and Lella Gandini, as well as relationships with other schools have supported our school in being a research-based organization to realizing the program that it is today.

Curriculum, children’s learning and development within the school are supported through a process of constant reflection and analysis by the school’s teaching teams and pedagogues, and this work drives professional development, ensuring it is responsive and respectful of the specific setting of the school, aware of work happening globally, abreast of current research.