Molly Lounsberry Dykstra thinks her mother Berrie is a visionary. “She seems to have instinctively known so many things that we’re seeing supported by research now,” Dykstra says. “She was ahead of her time in terms of her understanding of the importance of the early (0–5) years.”
Berrie Lounsberry started a little school in her basement 35 years ago with five or six kids. The Berry Patch is now a two-location enterprise with 250 to 300 kids a year enrolled. The school has had some changes in leadership, but a few years ago Dykstra became the director, bringing the school back home, so to speak. This year she and her husband Jeff, along with her brother Brad Lounsberry and his wife Carrie, bought the school from the senior Lounsberrys, so the transition to a new generation of leadership is complete.
Growth brings changes to any organization and The Berry Patch is no exception, but Dykstra says her mother’s basic philosophy still guides them. And, even though she’s retired and spends most of her time in Arizona now, Dykstra still consults with her mother. Mary Lamb, who has taught at the school since 1998, says that she’s seen a lot of changes in 21 years. The school achieved national accreditation and added afternoon programs, in partnership with outside organizations, with special interests like science, sports and theater, and art has had an impact in The Berry Patch just as it has everywhere else in the world. But she sees much that is still the same.
“What has remained constant throughout the years is our belief in a play-based program, and our love for the children and their families,” she says. “Berrie founded our school on her love of children and her love of God. Her heart continues to beat in every classroom under the leadership of her daughter.” Dykstra feels strongly that investing in the youngest children has the biggest payoff—and not just for those kids or that family but for all of us, as a society. “This is the time,” she says. “This is ground zero, this is the place to invest.”
Kelley Siemon’s two sons, Luke—now 10—and Josh—now 8—were both in Lamb’s class. Siemon says they learned a lot but mostly she’s grateful they learned to like school. “They have both had a lot of really good teachers since they left The Berry Patch School,” she says. “But they both still say that Mary Lamb was the best teacher they’ve had.” The Siemon family goes way back with The Berry Patch. Siemon’s sister-in-law Malia was one of those five or six kids in the first class in the Lounsberry house.
The school’s trademarked tagline is “For the love of learning” and Dykstra says that applies to the school itself, as a business. “I want us to always be looking for new insights. We shouldn’t do things just because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” she says. “For the love of learning … covers all of it,” she says. “The staff is always learning, the kids are always learning, families are always learning ... it’s a lifelong journey embraced by the whole community of The Berry Patch.”