1969: El Primer Paso was founded by a group of volunteers to prepare local Hispanic children for a demanding public education curriculum through a developmentally appropriate preschool program provided in a multicultural, bilingual environment. The school’s first sessions took place in quarters loaned to them by Trinity Lutheran Church in Dover.
1970: The school moved to a house on Richards Avenue owned by the Holy Rosary Church.
1973: El Primer Paso received a substantial donation from the St. Mary School in Denville, raised during the school’s “Walk for Development” fundraising campaign. The receipt of these funds allowed for the incorporation of El Primer Paso and its establishment as a legal entity.
1976: El Primer Paso received its first government assistance in the form of a CETA grant. The grant funded the salaries of two teachers, helping to formalize and establish a program with two half-day sessions, five-days-a-week for four-year-old students. Mrs Jean Seavey, a certified teacher who was among the visionaries that had founded El Primer Paso, was appointed the school’s first Executive Director. Mrs Seavey, although retired, continues to be involved with the school today, serving on the advisory board and volunteering in the classroom.
1980: An adult English-as-a-Second-Language instructional program was added in response to requests from parents of children in the preschool.
1984: A preschool program for three-year-olds was added–“La Escuelita”–to provide an additional level of support for English language acquisition and developmental growth in response to the needs of the community.
1988: El Primer Paso began sponsorship of a Family Childcare Program. The program trained people to care for children in their own homes, assisted caregivers in registering with the state as approved family childcare homes and following appropriate requirements. Training areas included child development, safety, hygiene, food preparation and other relevant topics. El Primer Paso began to participate in the NJ Department of Agriculture’s Family Child Care Food Program, sponsoring and monitoring the registered providers in the caregivers’ network. As a participant, the agency could ensure that the children in family childcare receive nutritionally balanced meals and snacks at no cost to their parents.
As El Primer Paso grew and developed as an important community organization through the years, the agency’s programs proved so popular and impactful that the management decided a permanent facility for the school was needed.
April 1999: A capital campaign was initiated with the help of United Way of Morris County. The campaign raised more than $450,000 toward the purchase and renovation of a Victorian home located in a residential section of Dover adjacent of Route 46 and Mount Hope Avenue.
November 2000: El Primer Paso celebrated the opening of its new facility at 29 Segur Street. The renovated building includes a set of two dividable classrooms complemented by a full kitchen, all designed to support morning and afternoon preschool classes on the first floor. A teacher preparation room, conference room and classrooms for adult students, along with offices occupy the second floor. Instruction is enriched by a fenced-in playground where children can spend a significant portion of their school day outdoors.
2005: With the support of a capital grant fromUnited Way of Morris County, the “environmental center,” and outdoor classroom for science and nature education was added on a vacant lot adjoining the original property. As El Primer Paso programs continue to thrive, the management has taken steps to insure its future sustainability.
2007: Through a capital grant from the Hyde Watson Foundation, the structure was rebuilt and refurbished, maintaining the original footprint but updating it with safe, low-maintenance materials, preserving the long-term integrity and aesthetic beauty of the facility. Among the school’s most significant efforts to preserve the historic building in which it is housed was a full restoration of the building’s wraparound porch.
2009: Effective May 31, 2009, El Primer Paso became one of the first programs in the nation to earn accreditation from theNational Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) under the newly revised national accreditation system. The new, more rigorous standards reflect the school’s high standards in the areas of curriculum, health and safety, and teacher qualifications, as well as family and community relationships. Less than 5% of preschools in New Jersey and less than 10% of preschools across the nation attain NAEYC accreditation.