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History & Vision

History & Vision

Learning Through Play

La Canada Preschool opened in 1949 and is one of the oldest preschools in Los Angeles County. With only three owner/directors in this history, Debbie Ficarra bought the school in 2003 from Mary Ellen Gilstrap, who trusted she would preserve the vision of what quality and affordable preschool would prevail.

The school has a deep rooted philosophy in children learning through play, and with a setting that is non-institutionalized and small. It is known as an early childhood educational center where children are valued for their individuality and creative spirit, where a child’s experience is more important than the curriculum.

Setting Their Own Goals

Today that vision is alive and well, where wonder, curiosity, self discovery, problem solving, interactions, exploration and play are valued above all else. At La Canada Preschool we believe children learn best when they make their own choices and set their own goals.

Experience is the the best teacher, it is the only teacher. Our flexibility and willingness to follow a child’s lead will allow remarkable things to happen, if we let them.

Meet Our Staff

Debbie Ficarra, Director

Debbie has been the owner and director of La Canada Preschool since 2003, only the third owner in 70 years of the schools existence, and is passionate about early childhood education. She has been teaching since 1987, has studied for two masters degrees at Pacific Oaks College, has six children and two grandchildren with her husband Hugo, who also works at the school as  her assistant. As the director she is in the classroom everyday, overseeing and facilitating to all. Her goal is for your child to love school and create a foundation for all their future learning.

Hugo Ficarra, Assistant Director

Hugo comes to us with a wealth of experience, having his own in home child care center for many years, as well as raising six children. He is energetic, happy and always enthusiastic about the day. He maintains the facility as well, keeping it in tip top shape. Hugo studied early childhood education at UCLA after retiring, as he always wanted to be a teacher. And he makes the best playdough and snack everyday for our children.

Tony Ojinaga

Tony has been teaching with Debbie since 1997, as well as has his AA degree from Pasadena City College in Early Childhood Education. He is a gentle soul, with a kind presence. He brings us lots of science, art and keeps a watchful eye over all. Tony is here early in the morning and stays all day, a consistent and calming teacher. He has married and has a daughter Yasmine.

Melissa Petersen

Melissa has been teaching with us for the past four years, with experience teaching preschool and obtained her AA degree from College of the Canyons. Melissa is our lead morning teaching, creating fun curriculum and hands on activities. She has a wonderful spirit, showing understanding for the developmental needs of every child. Melissa is married and has one daughter Lila.

Erika Dwyer

Erika is our Pre-K teacher, with 15 years experience teaching Pre-K and her AA degree from Pasadena City College. She is enthusiastic, happy and has a good grasp of what skills are needed for each child to be ready for Kindergarten. Erika teaches the children Spanish, dancing and singing, as well a love for school.

Lori Denman-Underhill

Lori come to us with fifteen years experience as a nanny, as well as her units in Cild Development from Glendale Community College. She is a wonderful teacher who take time with each child, and has a kind approachable spirit. She has a four year old daughter Isis.

Flor Lopez

Flor has been with us for the past three years as a teachers assistant in the mornings and the Pre-K. She is a student at Cal State Northridge and is studying to be a teacher. Flor possess a gentle spirit and is growing into an amazing educator.

Cindy Finch

Cindy is returning to us at La Canada Preschool, where she was a teacher from 2000-2005. After raising to beautiful children, Cindy wanted to reenter the world of education and we could nor be happier. Approachable, happy and energetic, Cindy has an attunement for each child she works with. Cindy and her husband Kevin live in Glendale, with their dog Jack.

Jackie Kelley

As an early childhood educator for the past ten fifteen years, Jackie brings to us as wealth of knowledge and education, having taught at University of Missouri and UCLA as a professor. Her overriding love for the classroom brings her to us and we are always thrilled to have Jackie on staff.


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News & Updates

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La Canada Preschool

4460 Oakwood Avenue
La Canada, CA 91011



School Hours

Monday - Friday: 8am – 5pm
Weekends: Closed

I want to take a minute and acknowledge the SmackSmog Team for helping me with the design of my website. I’ve done some video projects with SmackSmog and I was excited that they agreed to help me with my website development. A special word of thanks to Patti Ring for the development of my new logo and website. Steve O’Bryan was key in creating the Content Marketing and Online Strategies that occur throughout the site. SmackSmog specializes in helping artists and small to medium businesses have a strong presence on the internet. They’ve really come through for me and they’ll come through for you too.