Newport Beach preschool's playground dedicated to retired director

St. Mark Community Preschool has dedicated a natural playground to its recently retired director.

The Mary Hornbuckle Nature Yard at the Newport Beach preschool, 2200 San Joaquin Hills Road, includes rocks for climbing, sand for digging, and dirt for planting and playing.

Visitors on Monday toured the yard at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The yard opens to students Tuesday — children at the church will also be able to use the yard.

Hornbuckle said they have been trying to get the yard built since they moved to their current location four and a half years ago and she is thrilled with the result.

She said children are living with a nature deficit.

"We need a place that children can get down and dirty," she said.

Hornbuckle directed the preschool for 24 years until her retirement June 30. She taught at the school for 10 years before that and served on the Costa Mesa City Council.

She remains active in the community, serving on the Coast Community College District board.

The event was also an opportunity for the community to meet new Director Martha Malane, who began full time July 2. Prior to St. Mark, she was the owner-director for 14 years of Childbridge Preschool in Mission Viejo.

Malane said she loves the staff and philosophy of the school.

"Kids can get dirty and messy and use their hands to explore and learn about the world in a way they understand," she said, adding that the new yard will add to that ability.

The yard was funded through charitable gifts and preschool funds.

alicia.lopez2@latimes.com

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