❮   all STORIES


Morgan Hall was crowded with grownups, but the 11 preschoolers knew just what to do. They stood side by side, stretching a handmade, red-and-black paper chain across the width of their brand-new classroom.

When University President Geraldine Jones gave the signal, they tore apart the paper rings and tossed the scraps in the air.

With that, the Rutledge Institute preschool was officially open.

The preschool – two newly renovated classrooms with a central foyer, plus teacher offices and storage space – is the centerpiece of the Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education.

Funded through a historic $4.2 million gift from Karen and Tom ’77 Rutledge, the institute brings teachers from The Village, a nationally accredited childhood education center, to campus to provide high-quality preschool education for eligible children ages 3-5.

The institute also offers exceptional learning opportunities and full-tuition scholarships for future teachers enrolled at Cal U as Rutledge Institute Scholars.

With many of their family members present, the Rutledges, of Greenwich, Conn., reminisced about their days as a young married couple raising their first child in an off-campus rental while Tom went to school and worked as a cable technician.

He is now the chairman and CEO of Charter Communications, the nation’s second largest cable provider.

“California had a real impact on us,” Tom said before settling into a tiny chair to meet the little learners. “This is really a continuation of a longtime relationship of supporting education here.

“Giving something like this is a tremendous gift to ourselves, too. We are very proud of what’s been built, and of the scholars.”

“There’s no one here today who’s happier than me,” added Karen. “We expect the Rutledge Institute to be a model of excellence for preschool education – and you are all going to do just great.”

Preschool classes began in fall 2018, with children and teachers in temporary classroom space just a few doors away in Morgan Hall. The children peeked in occasionally during the renovations, and the entire class performed a song to thank the University workers when the project wrapped up.

By dedication day, the books and blocks and locally made furniture was all in place, and the children proudly led their parents around the rooms.

The seven Rutledge Scholars also explored the space where their teacher training soon would begin.

“We all come from different backgrounds, but … we all have the same purpose and goals: to educate children,” said first-year scholar Elijah Gilbert.

“This opportunity will open so many doors for our futures. (The institute) gives us a chance to further our knowledge, become leaders in the field and touch the lives of kids such as these adorable little ones here.”

As the Rutledges and President Jones look on, preschool director Cherie Sears '81, '17 (at left) helps children break a paper chain.
Tom Rutledge '77 takes a seat in a tiny chair so he can chat with the Rutledge Institute children.
The first cohort of Rutledge Scholars gathers for a photo. Scholars form a living and learning community during their four years at Cal U.
Holding gifts from the preschool class, Karen and Tom '77 Rutledge talk with children and their teachers at the Rutledge Institute.

About the Author