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Rancocas Friends School

by Liz Hunter

More than an education

Finding the right preschool can be a daunting task for parents. Besides factors like location, hours, teacher quality and price, parents must also make sure that the school’s atmosphere will fit their child. Rancocas Friends School, under the care and governance of the Rancocas Monthly Meeting and the auspices of the Friends Council on Education and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, aims to make parents and children feel comfortable and welcome. The winner of a Best of Family 2011 and 2012 award from Suburban Family in the preschool category, Rancocas Friends School is the only one-room schoolhouse continuously in operation in Burlington County. The school is a place where pre-K and kindergarten children ages 3 1/2 to 6 years old can learn, play, express themselves and develop relationships. With two full-time teachers focused on the individual student, Rancocas Friends School accepts only 22 children to maintain a small and personalized atmosphere.

According to Headmistress Nora Dunfee, who has been a teacher there for 45 years, the school’s mission is to create a positive atmosphere and appreciation of the unique individual worth and potential of each child. The school provides a learning atmosphere in which every child may succeed through support and nurturing. Dunfee says children have a great deal of input in the program. “We teach the development of all readiness skills like language arts, math, science, art, speech, reading and music. One of the things we feel is an advantage to us is we’re not restricted to learning only from books. We can think outside of the box and go in-depth with certain subjects for children who are ready or more advanced,” she says.

In addition, Rancocas Friends School believes children learn best with hands-on projects. “Their ideas are a part of the program and students have researched and worked on many fascinating projects,” Dunfee says. “We give them the opportunity to be creative with art, music, drama and science projects.” Teacher Suzanne Banister contributes her musical talents to the class, and her background as a children’s book editor allows her to bring in new and interesting books for the students.

Field trips and tours are an important part of the curriculum at Rancocas Friends School and offer the opportunity to explore and learn outside of the classroom. Some of the most popular destinations include the Arden Theater in Philadelphia, the Scottish Rite Auditorium to see the Symphony in C Orchestra, and a visit to Long Beach Island. “Our science trip to Long Beach Island is one of the biggest of the year because we invite alumni and families, too,” says Dunfee. “We tour the fishery and get permission to throw glass bottles with notes inside into the ocean. We ask whoever finds a bottle to contact us and let us know where it was found. Then we use that information to teach the students about the tides.”

Visitors from various professions also come in to speak to the classes and parents are encouraged to get involved. “We invite parents to speak to the class about their special talents or careers,” says Dunfee. “This year, we’ve had a chef, a radiologist and a vet, and we learned a little Chinese, too.” Parents are also a big part of some of the fundraising projects at the school, such as the annual May Fair, which raises money for school improvements. “My door is always open to the parents,” adds Dunfee. “This is just as much their school as it is their children’s, and we love to make them a part of what we do.”

A major focus of the teachings at Rancocas Friends School is the treatment of others, especially in light of the attention that bullying has received in recent years. “Everyone is a victim when it comes to bullying. It’s not just the one being bullied, but the one doing the bullying, too,” she says. “We do a lot of talking and sharing feelings, teaching the kids about being sensitive to other people’s feelings.”

It’s this fostering of goodwill toward others that extends to one of the school’s most popular projects: The Peace Ball Project. Dunfee explains that each student hugs a soft, globe-shaped pillow so that children in other countries will know that they are loved. The ball—along with notes and photographs—is then sent off to a school in another country where students there will repeat the process. Dunfee says one year they sent the Peace Ball to England and that school sent it to Australia. Rancocas Friends School received letters from those children saying how much they loved the idea and how important they felt it was. “It’s our way of sending peace one hug at a time,” she says. “Since then, other Peace Balls have made their way to Germany, France, Portugal and China. Our latest idea is to send a Peace Ball to President Obama. His daughters attend a Friends school, so we’re hoping he’ll take notice.”

Rancocas Friends emphasizes Quaker values of simplicity, kindness, honesty and respect for all, she says. “Academically, socially, physically and spiritually we strive for excellence. We accomplish this by guiding the children with love, honesty, equality and patience.”

Registration for the 2013-14 school year is open. The school offers the option of a full-day program (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) or a half-day program (9 a.m.-noon). Extended care is available from 3-6 p.m. The school is located at 201 Main St. in Rancocas. To plan a visit to the school, call (609) 267-1265. For more information, visit the school’s website at

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 12 (February, 2013).
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