Music Teacher Joyce Perry Retires after 48 Years at SPNDS
For the past 48 years, Joyce Perry has taught music to every class at Swarthmore Presbyterian Nursery Day School (SPNDS,) from the “young threes” to the kindergarteners. When not perched at her seat at the piano, she could be found attending to her other responsibilities, including overseeing the “Earlybirds” before the start of the school day and the “Stay and Players” after. In some families, Perry has taught three generations.
A native of West Medford, Massachusetts, Joyce Flewelling attended Mount Holyoke College, graduating in 1952. Inspired by reading about the philosophy of the Sleighton Farm School for Girls in a sociology class she took senior year, she decided to go into social work. “I was not going to be a music teacher,” said Perry, though she majored in music (with a minor in Italian) and had a voice scholarship. “The idea I had somehow formed of being a strict school teacher from the olden days who made everybody do what she wanted did not appeal to me.” Yet when a representative from the Sleighton School came to Mt. Holyoke, Joyce was hired for exactly that role.
While teaching at Sleighton in Edgmont, Perry joined the choir at Media Fellowship House, where she met two people of the Baha’i faith. They greatly impressed her and she began to investigate the religion, founded on the belief in the unity and equality of all people. “I’d like to be a Baha’i,” she thought, “but I never could be that good.” Eventually, she became one.
Perry’s next position was head of teen programming at the Frankford branch of the YWCA of Philadelphia, where she met her future husband, Lawrence Perry. The director of the branch advised her to stop dating him, because they were interracial. She did not, and was fired. Undeterred, she returned to work at Sleighton.
The couple soon wed and began raising a family. While living in Media, Perry taught music at The School in Rose Valley. She took a leave of absence when her third child was born, and the family settled in a home on Park Avenue in Swarthmore. She joined SPNDS as a substitute, and when her fourth child was old enough to be a student there, the director, Betty McCorkle, asked her to be the music teacher. That was in 1971, and she never left.
On the top floor of the church, during any given music period with “Joyce”, as the children call her, children might be hopping around the room to “Hop Old Squirrel”, marching with percussion instruments to “Scraping up Sand in the Bottom of the Sea”, or eagerly singing “The Snake Baked a Hoe Cake,” while the strains of the piano and voices waft reassuringly throughout the school. “I did not like the cutesy songs that were often taught to children,” Perry said, “and chose traditional folk songs instead.”
Perry became the school’s first librarian, tending an incipient book collection and growing it into a bonafide library. To honor that legacy, her colleagues created the Joyce Perry Library Fund this past spring, with a new collection of picture books whose underlying theme is diversity and equality.
Now that she has retired, Perry looks forward to the peacefulness of living in Bath, Maine with her daughter Faith, who promises to introduce her to the Baha’i community there and get her a library card. “If something else should come up, though,” Perry said, “I’d be glad to do it.”
Reisa Mukamal is an assistant teacher in the morning kindergarten class at SPNDS.