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A Few Good Families

Published: November 8, 2016

Margie Young was an infant when her father, Robert “Bob” Young, got together with six local families in Pasadena to found a children’s school unlike any other. Her father was Quaker. Some of the other families were not. But it was a shared belief in equality and social justice that united them to give their children a safe, welcoming place to learn and develop. The Pacific Oaks Friends School opened in 1945 with 10 teachers and 65 children.

“Quakers believe that there is a light in each person, and that is to be honored in everyone,” says Young, who grew up alongside her siblings under the oak trees of Shady Lane and went on to graduate from Pacific Oaks College in 1972. “We are all equal. There is no question about that.”

Those values of community, simplicity, non-violence, and the importance of each individual became the heartbeat of what would become the Pacific Oaks College & Children’s School. And they continue to drive the larger Pacific Oaks community to this day.

“This Quaker influence has defined the values that have guided us for the last 70 years—values that are bound to what we care about,” Pacific Oaks President Patricia Breen told the audience at her inauguration speech last October, which also coincided with the institution’s 70-year anniversary celebration.

When the Pacific Oaks Friends School, which eventually became Pacific Oaks Children’s School, opened 70 years ago, there was little diversity in Pasadena. World War II had just come to an end. Setting an example meant breaking the status quo.

“These are the same values that led to Louise Derman-Sparks’ ground-breaking work in anti-bias education in the 1980s that changed the way we teach forever, and to the ageless Cheryl Greer-Jarman who re-wrote the book on conflict resolution, and to the faculty of the School of Cultural and Family Psychology who have both defined the need and created the response for culturally informed therapeutic practice.”

Quaker Principles

Dr. Donald Grant, associate dean of the School of Human Development, says those Quaker principles also continue to inform curriculum at Pacific Oaks College.

“We try to make sure that all content is seen through a variety of lenses so that everybody’s voice can be heard,” Grant explains. “As a result, there is a wider understanding about the connectedness of groups of people who may be marginalized.”

When the Pacific Oaks Friends School, which eventually became Pacific Oaks Children’s School, opened 70 years ago, there was little diversity in Pasadena. World War II had just come to an end. Setting an example meant breaking the status quo.

Young’s younger brother was one of the first students at Pacific Oaks Children’s School with developmental disabilities—a rarity in the late 1940s. The founding families also actively broke a covenant in the community to “keep the neighborhood white and Christian” by hiring a Japanese-American woman who had spent two years in an internment camp during the war to work in the nursery school.

Through this curriculum, Pacific Oaks graduates emerge as change agents—successful professionals in their fields who take the next step to push policy and ensure all people have equal access to quality education and community services.

“Those seven Pasadena families had a remarkable vision,” says Pamela McComas, former executive director of Pacific Oaks Children’s School. “This small and committed group knew that the best way to ensure a peaceful world and abolish intolerance was to establish a place where all are welcome to learn and grow side by side.”

Voice of Change

Today, the Pacific Oaks College community that evolved from that vision continues to be a place where complex conversations about race and equality are held—and where students are challenged through coursework to stand up for the rights of individuals and become advocates for change in an unjust world.

“Valuing social justice supports our students’ ability to understand the magnitude of the current concerns and how the ecology impacts them,” explains Grant. “Our goal is to help students understand that it’s not just important to retain the information you learn in the classroom, but how can you take what you learn and help influence ways to treat people with more equity.”

Through this curriculum, Pacific Oaks graduates emerge as change agents—successful professionals in their fields who take the next step to push policy and ensure all people have equal access to quality education and community services. Dr. Breen says this progression of the Quaker legacy is critical.

“There is no less need for action driven by those values today than there was 70 years ago. Our commitment to them, and to what we care about, will continue to drive our response to the needs of our communities—whether here in Pasadena, South Africa, or somewhere in between.”

Proud Legacy

Those who are familiar with the history of Pacific Oaks Children’s School know that its story can be traced back to even before those seven founding families— back to more than a century ago.

In 1906, two sisters opened an orphanage in La Loma House, a mission that evolved into a teacher’s college called Broadoaks. The school eventually merged with Whittier College, a Quaker institution, while continuing to educate aspiring teachers with a nursery school for hands-on training.

Margie Young’s father just happened to be auditing the books for Whittier in 1945 when he learned that the college was trying to sell Broadoaks—an oak-lined campus in Pasadena on a street called Shady Lane.

“At Pacific Oaks, students, faculty, and administration continue to be viewed as unique and valued individuals. Even today, I think that is pretty rare and extraordinary.”

He saw an opportunity, and when he presented the possibility to the six other founding families at the Orange Grove Friends Meeting in Pasadena, they pooled a sum of $33,000 to purchase Broadoaks and make their dream nursery school a reality.

“Let’s dare to dream for our children better than we have yet known, and to implement our dream with sound family patterns and meaningful daily life within our school,” said Molly Morgenroth, a founder and the school’s first director.

Margie Young lived that dream as an infant and toddler at the Pacific Oaks Friends School in the 1940s. She lived that dream as a student at Pacific Oaks College in the late 1960s, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in human development. She lived that dream as an elementary school teacher.

Today, she lives that dream as a proud alumna.

“At Pacific Oaks, students, faculty, and administration continue to be viewed as unique and valued individuals. Even today, I think that is pretty rare and extraordinary,” Young says, adding: “We always have a choice of how we act. If we are all equal, then we can only treat others as we wish to be treated. As I travel through life I still reflect on the values that were instilled so early in me.”

Categories: Magazine Features