Families from Prairie's past, present, and future gather to celebrate the opening of the Leipold Johnson Early Childhood Center.

It was impossible not to notice the feeling that permeated the warm summer air. Start with the giddy crowd gathered in the parking lot on the late August afternoon, people as young as two and three standing with those in their seventies and eighties, generations of families bridged by the bonds of red bricks and curiosity.

Then take the ceremony itself, or more specifically Dr. Nat Coffman’s address, a speech that started with his evoking the memory of Prairie’s beloved founder, Imogene Powers Johnson, and her belief that TPS at its core was meant to be a family school, and concluded with Helen Johnson Leipold ’74, Imogene’s daughter and current Board Chair, stepping forward with her own family to cut the royal blue ribbon carefully draped in front of the building.

“Mrs. Johnson believed that Prairie was a family school for three-year-olds through eighteen-year-olds and that the foundation that happens in Early School is incredibly important to who and what we are as an institution,” Dr. Coffman told the crowd as it continued to swell.

Too rare are the moments when we allow ourselves to dream with eyes wide open. However, over the past year, the people of Prairie did exactly that. We watched from our classrooms and car windows as a hole was dug and beams were lifted and those red bricks were slathered with mortar. We watched an empty field become the Leipold Johnson Early Childhood Center (LJC). We daydreamed about what might happen in this place, a beautiful space that would soon be filled with color and light and creativity and music.

And on this particular night, families came together to see the finished product. The new home for Prairie’s youngest learners was here. And our hearts were full.

The self-guided tours of the LJC didn’t take long, ten, maybe fifteen minutes tops.

But after visitors had the chance to tour the new space, they exited to the southern side of campus where a mini festival awaited them. There was food and ice cream, bounce houses and live music. Kids laughed and ran and played. Parents sat together discussing where the summer had gone and what the new school year might bring.

It was a rare moment for families to slow down. To reflect. To dream.