Community Hero: ‘This is who I’m meant to be,’ says preschool director Barbara De La Loza

La Jolla Presbyterian Church Preschool director Barbara De La Loza calls the students her "little punkins."

Barbara De La Loza directs La Jolla Presbyterian Church Preschool with “passion” and “grace,” according to two of the several community members who nominated her for the La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series.

De La Loza has held the director position for nearly seven years. She came to the preschool after teaching and training others in early-childhood education for a few decades.

“I coordinate it all,” she said. “I partner with the parents, I do everything I can to support the teachers, providing everything they need to be the best early-childhood educators.”

De La Loza, who lives in Carlsbad with her husband, said she visits classrooms, meets regularly with teachers and supports their development to ensure that the roughly 85 students — whom she calls her “little punkins” — are thriving.

“Parents are trusting me with their child,” she said. “There’s no greater honor. This is who I’m meant to be.”

Felicity Norris, a parent at the preschool, said De La Loza is “a person you can count on when the going gets tough. She is outside at 8 every morning with a smile to greet our young children. She comes to our car and safely takes our 2- to 4-year-olds inside to play and learn. She has been steadfast in her faith and duty to our community.”

Navigating the adjustments caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge, De La Loza said, “but we have to do everything humanly possible to continue providing for our children.”

The preschool’s in-person classes, which started in September following a closure in the spring and a quick transition to online learning, are held in small cohorts that do not mix.

Barbara De La Loza is pictured during La Jolla Presbyterian Church Preschool's Christmas program on Zoom.
Barbara De La Loza, pictured during La Jolla Presbyterian Church Preschool’s Christmas program on Zoom, said it’s an “honor” to serve the community.

“Thinking out of the box is what I like to do,” De La Loza said. Her response to all the changes resulting from public health measures was: “Let’s redefine what preschool looks like. The needs of the children always come first.”

Parent Tiffany Shafer said De La Loza’s adaptations during the pandemic not only align with public health guidelines but also “with the expectations and willful cooperation of us parents, whose main desire is to allow our children the opportunity to attend school in person during these formative years.”

De La Loza is “in 10 places at once, to take temperatures, calm any child with a pinch of separation anxiety, briefly converse with a parent who needs her immediate attention [and] lead her teachers and staff in the most awesomely orchestrated drop-off routine ever created,” Shafer said.

De La Loza “creates a wonderful, safe and fun learning environment for all the children and her staff and teachers,” Shafer added. “She has to be the most organized person I’ve ever known. … I have no idea when she sleeps, because she is everywhere at once. ... While she has to be under an immense amount of pressure, you would never know it. I am honored and so very blessed that my child is her ‘little punkin.’”

Brigid Christianson, a fifth-year parent at La Jolla Presbyterian Church Preschool, said De La Loza’s “passion for early-childhood education has always been an inspiration, but this year she has truly exceeded all expectations. … She has had to walk the difficult line between maintaining the magical environment of preschool while following the most recent [health] guidelines ... no easy feat!”

Christianson said “it is not at all uncommon to receive emails from [De La Loza] at 3 a.m. with a reminder to wash hands or the importance of wearing masks in public. The well-being of everyone in our preschool community has always been her No. 1 priority. … She puts her whole heart into leading her school.”

De La Loza said she’s driven by “serving the families, serving our community.”

“The children bring the excitement and the joy all on their own,” she said. “It’s a matter of taking that excitement and weaving the academics through the fun, through the play. That’s why I show up every day.”

Noting that many current students at the preschool are children of former students, De La Loza said: “Every day I appreciate the honor to continue the legacy. Our roots in the community run deep and wide.”

Being nominated as a Community Hero by multiple people rendered De La Loza “speechless.”

“I truly am grateful that the parents took the time to write letters,” she said. “Right now is a very busy time for them, beyond any other season we’ve had.”

“We’ve created a team that is professional and dedicated to each child,” De La Loza added. “My heart explodes for [the parents] to recognize and appreciate the work that we do. It’s an incredible place to be.”

Community Heroes logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. Nominations for this holiday season have closed.