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The family I grew up in wasn’t perfect – I like to think of it as “disorganized”. My parents were 17 when I was born, so my grandmother raised me in the community of Highland Park, California. My grandmother was an uneducated woman, but she was very loving and kind. But amidst the dysfunction of my home life, school became a constant for me at a very young age. Some of the fondest memories of my childhood come from my time at school. It was there that I felt seen and appreciated. I knew that my teachers wanted me to succeed and that I could count on them.

To me, school was like home

Maybe even more like home than home was. When nothing made sense at home, school brought a sense of order into my life. It was there that I developed my sense of community. The two places I loved most in my community were my school and the library. When I went to these places, I saw a glimpse into the “real world” – because my world always seemed a little odd compared to everyone else’s.

School saved me

It offered a consistency in my life that I had never really had before. As I grew older and had a family of my own, I began to realize that it was my calling to be a teacher. I had never lost that love for learning, and I still felt so at home in an educational environment. I began taking my daughter to a co-op preschool in Glendale. As I interacted with the children there, a woman asked me if I was a teacher. When I replied that I was not, she told me, “You need to become a teacher.” It was like a light was switched on in my head and I knew that I was born to do this.

I can’t think of a better place to share my gift of education than in the community of La Cañada. There’s something so special about this place – maybe it’s Descanso Gardens – the kindness of people shines so brightly here. My favorite thing about La Cañada is the safety and consistency that you feel in this community. You can tell that people want the best for their children. And that’s why LCPS fits in so well in this community. For 72 years, we’ve offered that consistency for people. At our school, people make connections that last a lifetime. I still have people approach me that I taught over 20 years ago tell me that they are still friends with the children they met when they attended La Cañada preschool. We’ve had our ups and downs, and like most small businesses, this pandemic has really hit us hard. But I believe in safe communities. That’s why I continue to invest in this place. LCPS provides a special kind of security and happiness that you just can’t put a price on. Where else can you find that? Children who come here leave with an understanding of how to be happy in school, and they fall in love with learning. That’s powerful – and it’s something they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

To me, La Canada Preschool represents what the community of La Cañada is all about.

We’ve worked hard to preserve La Cañada Preschool because families will always need good schools. My goal with this school is to offer the same consistency and support for children that school offered to me when I was a child. I believe that’s my legacy in the La Cañada community. When I die, I want to be remembered as the woman who ran La Cañada Preschool for as long as she was able.

I want people to remember the safe place that I was able to create for children to feel loved and appreciated.

Debbie Ficarra

That’s what I want to leave behind. And I will never forget the looks of pure joy that come over the children’s faces as they experience the joys of learning time and time again.