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Crayons, Hugs, and Community—First Place School

Just off the corner of 20th and Spruce in Seattle’s Central District, there is a school with a picket fence designed to look like a box of crayons and where all of the 3-to-5-year old children entering with their parents are greeted with a hug and a smile before entering their classrooms.

It’s the First Place Early Learning Center, and the atmosphere created within the school is unique.

 “When I started working here 3 years ago, it felt like I was ‘coming home,’ becoming part of a community,” said educator Stacy Green. “Working with the children, I feel like I’m giving them part of me.”

The three classrooms that make up First Place are bursting with the type of energy that comes with  Preschoolers: children hugging parents before dashing off to meet with classmates, singing “good morning” songs, and students deciding the activities within their classrooms that are going to start their day.

“Just to see their faces when they get to walk into the classroom, look onto the board and find their name, the excitement they bring every day,” said Verna Grissette, who has been with First Place for over 4 years.  

“The heart and laughter never changes,” Green said. “You can see them building a community among themselves in the classroom.”

Educators Stacy Green (l) and Verna Grissette (r)

The community and interaction between students, teachers, parents, and school administration makes First Place special.

Betty Thomas with her Great-Granddaughter Alivia Combs

That community is what Betty Thomas said her Great-Grandchild Alivia Combs felt her first day at First Place two years ago, “This was the perfect place. She didn’t cry when she walked in, and she loved everybody, like she had been here before.”

Thomas said she has seen Alivia bloom at first place, who has been in classes with older kids, but kept up with them and “learned everything that they learned.”

“She loves to tell me ‘Granny I can do it!’”

Alivia is a “people person” and Thomas says First Place has nurtured that talent, allowing her to become a teacher’s helper in the classroom. Thomas said that is what she believes Alivia will carry from the school as she enters Kindergarten, calling First Place the perfect place “for kids that need a special start in their lives.”

Jacquelynn Loos said when she was notified that her son Archer Watson could start Preschool and there was a spot open at First Place, she really didn’t know much about the school, but she has fallen in love with the school’s mission.

“My son has done so well, instead of seeing his behavior as a deficit, they’ve seen it as a strength,” Loos said. “What makes the school work is they make sure they’re utilizing the curriculum around the children’s needs.”

Loos said that at times Archer can “be overwhelming,” but that he has been placed with an “absolutely incredible teacher” during his time at First Place.

“I can see a difference in his behavior, the way he acts, in the way he speaks.”

Jacquelynn Loos and her son Archer Watson

Both Loos and Betty Thomas said that the life skills that Alivia and Archer receive at First Place will be invaluable as they enter Kindergarten. Educator Stacy Green said that is a vital part of what they work on at First Place.

“You can see them start to take ownership of the classroom and their education,” Green said. “Our curriculum lets teachers step back and provide students with the ability to direct their own education.”

Alivia Combs and Archer Watson will be part of this year’s “Graduating Class” from First Place. Next stop, Kindergarten!  Betty Thomas and Jacquelynn Loos said they’ll be sad their young students are leaving First Place, but both are ready for their next step.

Thomas, who said Alivia wanted to know at last year’s graduation “Why don’t I have a gown?” is looking forward to a school that will build on the foundation Alivia has built at First Place. “I hope they will continue what this school did, I don’t want no one to hold her back.”

Loos said that last year Archer wouldn’t have been prepared, but with his work at First Place he has “stepped up.” “He will be prepared to sit down in a structured environment and be able to utilize time for learning and time for play.”

Carol Brown is ready for First Place, the school with the crayon picket fence, to be a gem that is not “hidden” to children and parents searching for a Preschool.

“If you’re looking for a home away from home, with nurturing teachers and a top of the grade preschool and Pre-K program, this is the place!!”

For more information on First Place School, go to

Enrolling Now! First Place School is a partner of the Seattle Preschool Program (SPP). For information on applying for SPP, go to