Carnegie Preschool: A 'hidden gem'

But enrollment has fluctuated in recent years at this preschool in Roseville's Old Town
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Gwen Tilton presses play on her stereo and Queen’s power ballad “We Are the Champions” fills the air.

She doesn’t play the typical Barney “Clean Up Song” found in many other preschools. Instead, her kids rock out.

“The kids hear that beat and they know it’s clean-up time,” Tilton says.

The 34-year-veteran preschool teacher is all about preparing kids for kindergarten by teaching them letters and numbers, but she makes sure to always incorporate fun.

As the song plays, the 13 kids in preschool that day pick up the toys littering the floor and dump them into big plastic bins. They tug on each other and chat and giggle — loudly.

“At Carnegie, it’s OK to be loud and have fun,” Tilton says, smiling. “We’re not a real quiet preschool.”

Carnegie Preschool is located in the basement — or “garden level” — of the Carnegie Museum in Roseville’s Old Town. Despite being among the oldest preschools of the City of Roseville’s 16 sites, this one is a hidden gem, says Shari Turley, of the Parks and Recreation department, which oversees the preschool program.

This pre-kindergarten class currently has 15 children and can accommodate up to 20. But for the past three years, enrollment has fluctuated, Tilton says. The lowest they had was 10. The teacher posted a sign out front advertising preschool registration, which ends March 18.

“I need students for the fall,” Tilton says. “If I don’t have enrollment, it will close and that would be the saddest thing.”

The city’s Parks and Recreation department advises parents to check out a few preschool options because each site has a different style. All the teachers, though, are trained in early childhood development.

Tilton says in more than three decades of teaching preschoolers, she’s never had a child run away, and she hasn’t had a crier on the first day of school in eight years. The popularity of her program has kept parents bringing their children back through the years.

“We don’t live in a neighborhood of families,” Tilton says. “That’s why we’re so special. People come from all over to come here.”

Once they leave, they often come back to visit.

Next to Tilton’s desk, dozens of class photos are tacked to the wall, along with holiday cards and notes from former students or parents. The teacher points to a photo of a 4-year-old girl holding a teddy bear on “pajama day” who is now in the credential program at California State University, Sacramento and still keeps in touch.

Another photo shows former students Amanda Wilson and Brian Allen as adults.

“They met and fell in love in preschool,” Tilton says. “They took their engagement photo on the steps of Carnegie Museum. We’re going to the wedding.”

Tilton has worked at the local preschool for 24 years and has been assisted by aide Ruth Moses the whole time.

“It’s not work,” Moses says. “(I love) the kids. They’re never depressed, they don’t know the world, they’re always happy. All my grandkids live out of town, so these are substitutes.”

On a recent Wednesday, the kids play with cars and dolls. Some get out crayons and draw.

“Where are all these apples from?” asks 4-year-old Johanna O’Brien. Then she grabs a bag of candy. “What are these for?”

The apples are for a cooking lesson, which the class does each Wednesday based on that week’s alphabet letter or theme. Once, the kids made noodles for “N” week. Another time, they prepared blueberry biscuits and butter for “B” week.

In Tilton’s “teacher’s room,” arts and crafts materials, toys and equipment stock the space, which is the size of a large walk-in closet — much bigger than the typical space granted preschool teachers who work at school sites with shared-space agreements.

"That’s one thing about this site,” Tilton says. “We have it all.”

Plus, Carnegie Preschool uses the community as an extension of the classroom. Last week, students, joined by parents, walked to the train station.

As playtime ends, Tilton grabs a tiny bell.

“Watch what happens when I ring my bell,” she says.

The kids immediately get quiet, put down their toys and gather on the floor. It’s time for show and tell. Gigi Pagel shows her peers two racing cars and they swarm around her as she demonstrates their speed.

Aren Campbell proudly displays his hamster doll and Laura Lacerda unveils an itty-bitty plastic sumo wrestler. Johanna shows off her Snow White doll.

“I have a horse too that goes with her,” she says. “I got her for Christmas.”

Tilton says all 15 of her preschoolers are going to kindergarten in the fall, which means she and Moses did their job. But they use the term “job” loosely.

“This is my joy, this is not a job,” Tilton says. “And I think the parents feel that, the kids feel that. It’s an extension of their family to come here.”

Sena Christian can be reached at


How to register for a City of Roseville preschool

· Child’s birthday must be prior to Dec. 2, 2007 for pre-kindergarten and prior to Sept. 4, 2008 for preschool

· Complete the registration form found at and mail with a copy of child’s birth certificate and $50 registration fee to City of Roseville Parks & Recreation Department, 316 Vernon St., Roseville, CA 95678

· Deadline: Friday, March 18

· Preschool applications are not on a first come, first serve basis. Applications will be drawn for your first choice, then put back into the lotto for your second choice.

· Roseville residents have priority to register for preschool. Non-residents are welcome to register starting May 9

· Registration status notification will be mailed by April 29

· Those who do not receive a space are placed on a waiting list and their registration fee returned

· Classes begin at the end of August