Where do you get to fingerpaint, dress up, have a snack, read Big Books, sing songs, learn to share, climb, run, dance, ride a tricycle and dig in the sand freely and without a care? Where is it allowed to wiggle, day dream, whisper, give clues to the surprise box and not know the answers? Where are you encouraged to make friends, solve problems and climb up into the story loft? Where is curiosity a commodity, wonder a skill actively developed and where does joy envelope the room? A magical place. One where ALL children should get the chance to first nibble at the giant cookie called school...preschool.
I have a very special place in my heart for preschools and we have gotten to be a part of several amazing ones but our local preschool in Davis has been the one we've been a part of the longest -- 10 years. It could be because I am rounding the bend and know my preschool days are numbered; or it could be because I spend a chunk of my time in elementary classrooms where No Child Left Behind has left its horrid, indelible mark so similar to the dark mark from Harry Potter that it is eerie; or it could be that I can just feel in my heart an essential truth when I see it and this preschool is full to the brim with the essential truths of early childhood: simple is beautiful; let them say it in their own words; let them discover it for themselves; the world is full of wonder just open the door and let them walk through.
When teachers get together, the preschool teachers are often left out. They don't require a credential. They aren't on any campus. They are just "playing" and it isn't really "standards based learning". In short, no one takes them very seriously and that is a mistake. A big mistake.
As a group, preschool teachers are one of the wisest groups I know. They are gentle, patient and humble. They are really superheroes but like any good superhero, they stay undercover and you'd never know it. They get paid like crap. They deal with snot and other bodily fluids on a daily basis. They fix "owies", dry tears, and melt away fear. They create in the simplest of spots a world that draws even the most reticent kids inside. They instill confidence through play. They teach the basic skills of school -- sharing, caring and trying -- while telling a story, eating a snack or figuring out whose turn it is on the trike. They never run out of the right words to say or the big open arms for an embrace. They know the secret and it's pretty simple: discovering it for yourself makes us want to learn more, sharing it with friends is downright addicting.
I want to thank the many gifted and grace-filled preschool teachers that have touched my world. In particular I would like to give a shout out to Teacher Betsy. She was the director of the school when Patrick was born and Mary Kate was in preschool -- our first year there. About a week into school, Patrick was facing open heart surgery and all I could think of was that I wasn't going to be able to keep my end of the bargain in the co-op situation for awhile. I approached Betsy with this news basically trying to keep it together and hoping desperately not to look as scared as I really was. Her words are frozen in time for me: "Beth, no problem. We will figure this out. It will be fine. And I hope that when it comes time to choose a school for Patrick that you will consider ours." Still those words bring tears. I cannot tell you what a paradigm shift that was for me. I was holding a baby that the world regarded as defective and broken, only weeks old. In my heart I had wondered where he would be "allowed" to be educated. I, most assuredly, had not entertained the notion that I might be in a place where I would have a variety of options and that I would get to "consider" several places. In one sentence, Betsy gave me a vision of my future that was not only optimistic, it was inclusive...Patrick was wanted. It planted a seed within me that has not only taken root but has already born fruit. I am forever grateful for her open arms, open heart and open mind. Patrick did, indeed, choose to go there and he thrived. I will never forget watching Patrick share his "Surprise Box" with his class with Teacher Betsy's careful guidance. His inclusive education in preschool most definitely set the stage for his inclusive education in elementary school. Preschool paved the way.
I am filled with gratitude to Teacher Mary and Teacher Ellen who helped Patrick navigate the first years of preschool with hardly any verbal language. They willingly learned sign language, held Patrick to the same behavioral expectations as his classmates and yet allowed the proverbial wiggle room. I want to thank deeply Teacher Lonna who showed me how to love and admire curious toddlers. With her as my model, I could listen carefully, stop and slow down and relish in the moment. I want Teacher Brenda to know that her gentle encouragement helped Caroline to grow and bloom. A favorite memory for me is the moment the Early Explorers actually sat still on the steps and ate "pops"each week. Teacher Patty's welcoming smile and care allowed Caroline to feel comfortable and safe. I want Teacher Rosa to know that Caroline has grown more curious and full of wonder because of her experiments on "I Wonder Wednesdays" and because of the exposure to your native language, Spanish. I know she's also grown more gentle with your example. I want Teacher Liz to feel my deep gratitude for her love, creativity and sense of fun. She has helped my adventurer to grow in confidence and to truly love school. Most importantly, Liz has stepped into the leadership role of this beautiful place and made it a fantastic, magical place to learn. My heart is full with the many many beautiful moments and friendships that have happened at this incredible school.
My wish for all children is a welcome into the world of learning and school as gentle, encouraging, loving and fun as our little happy school here in my town. You've got some special mojo, DCCNS. Could it be grace? Without a doubt. My children have known love and acceptance here and that has allowed them to become the people they are meant to be. There are no words deep enough or strong enough to convey my admiration, my full heart or my joy in our paths crossing. Thank you. Gracias. Merci Beaucoup. And Teacher Betsy: Dank u wel. "I think You're Wonderful!"