Clare Cherry

Clare Cherry


Nicholas R. Cataldo (2001)

Clare Cherry
Clare Cherry
This is a photograph of a picture that is on permanent display in the Clare Cherry School.
(Taken in 2008 by Don Miller)

Throughout its colorful past, San Bernardino County has been home to some pretty remarkable people. There were Hollywood celebrities such as Gene Hackman and Tennessee Ernie Ford. And of course the McDonald brothers started their fast-food industry in these parts. Even Chester Carlson---the inventor of the Xerox Machine---lived here for a while.

A little known fact, however, is that one of the most internationally recognized leaders in childhood education during the past century made her mark here in the Inland Empire. Her name was Clare Cherry.

As a young woman Cherry was torn between pursuing a career working with children or becoming an artist. Events soon unfolded that made it possible for her to realize that both goals could be achieved. She could use her artistic talents to bring beauty and color to the lives of children.

In the early 1950's Clare and her husband Sam opened a bookstore and art gallery in San Bernardino. A short time later she joined in with fellow members of Congregation Emanu El to organize a non-profit, non sectarian pre school to be operated by the Temple as a service to the community. And soon after the new school opened its doors for the first time in 1954, Clare Cherry became its director.

What set Cherry's program apart from others was her innovative attitude toward teaching. Perhaps because of her own childhood childhood, Cherry envisioned that student's learning should be a loving and enjoyable experience. She agonized over how traditional teaching up to that time had been focused primarily on developing the youngster's left (concrete, computational, logical) side of the brain, but very little with the right (sensory, spontaneous, and originative) side. In order to develop creativity, self confidence and, ultimately, the ability to read, teaching should be geared to the "whole" child.

The ingenious leader stressed the importance of using music and art as teaching tools. For instance, students learned the basic fundamentals of writing while listening to a Greg and Steve (Greg Scelsa and Steve Millang) song called "Round in a Circle".

While the kids sang to the lyrics, they painted with finger paints or shaving cream on the desk tops. Their tiny fingers were going round in a circle, the beginning of writing.

At first Clare's ideas of teaching youngsters seemed like pretty radical stuff and a bit kooky to some onlookers. For example, she would often be seen dancing with the children while everyone waved colorful scarves to the beat of music. But it didn't take long before her uncanny ability to bring out the creativity and self expression in children to catch on like wildfire.

Over the years Cherry authored a number of books on child development, parenting, and nursery school training and management. She also co-wrote several other books and worked on videotapes and films for early childhood education.

Sunny Wallick, a close friend and colleague of Cherry said of her:

"Clare spoke to organizations across the country and sold her 'ground breaking' books dealing with her philosophy of teaching kids everywhere she went. Today her program has become a model for other schools".

Cherry's lifelong dedication to children and her innovative role in their early education were an inspiration to teachers, parents, and students alike.

Clare Cherry with Children at a School
Photograph courtesy of the Clare Cherry School

Theresa Monroe, whose two grown daughters, Kirsten and Erika, once attended Congregation Emanu El's school remembered Clare as "warm, understanding, and creative". She educated the girls about the physical world and in understanding boundaries, albeit by means of unusual yet highly effective materials, like shaving cream and Jell-O.

A tireless educator, Cherry continued on as the school's leader until 1988 when she began suffering from lymphoma. Two years later, the disease took her life in July of 1990, at the age of 70.

Clare Cherry in a Classroom
Photograph courtesy of the Clare Cherry School

As for the school that was created nearly fifty years ago as a service to the community, business is better now than ever. Known today as Congregation Emanu El's Clare Cherry School, its students range from pre-school age through 6th grade. The highly regarded institution's philosophy and daily program follow the same path blazed by the compassionate childrens' advocate who made it all happen.

Clare Cherry with her Students
Clare Cherry with her Students.
This is a photograph (Taken in 2008 by Don Miller) of a picture that is on permanent display in the Clare Cherry School.