Grass-roots Preschool Celebrates A 35-year Experiment Women's Initiative Set School In Motion

November 25, 1990|By Dolly Merritt

Back in the days when the county was country and a young child's activities rarely went beyond his or her own backyard, a private kindergarten -- the Ellicott City Kindercraft, Inc. -- was created.

Since the public school system had no program for 5-year-olds, members of the Women's Civic Club of Ellicott City took matters into their own hands and started the non-profit program.

The kindergarten, now called The Howard County Pre-School Inc., will celebrate its 35th anniversary Wednesday at Rockland United Methodist Church, which currently houses the preschool. Teachers, families and former students, some of whom have sent their own children to the school, will reunite this week.

The school, whose enrollment is 96 students, now has eight people on the staff: four teachers and four teachers' aides.

There was just one teacher when the kindergarten opened in St. John's Lane Elementary School in 1955. For $12 a month, parents could send their children to the kindergarten for 2 hours a day, five days a week. That first teacher, Marlene Kelley Langdon, was paid an annual salary of $1,125.

Ellicott City resident Linda Eklof, now 85, was hired as a teacher the following year. She is still a member of the Howard County Women's Club.

"We had a lot of fun," she said. And a lot of moving -- the kindergarten, she recalls, moved several times during the seven years she taught there.

"The Ellicott City Middle School had the nicest principal," she said. "A turkey farm was next to the school and the owner, Morris Smith, would invite us over to wander around. Howard High was another good place. There were loudspeakers in every room, and every morning the principal's voice would boom through the speakers saying, 'Have you done any singing this morning?' And every morning the children's faces would be turned up toward the box, waiting to hear his voice."

After successive moves in the Ellicott City area -- to the Ellicott City Junior High School, Howard High School, Rockland Elementary School, Mount Hebron Church and Mount Hebron High School -- the preschool found its current home in 1967.

"It's not unusual for families to come back to visit and for former students, now in college, to drop in to say hello," said Nancy Stanley, 39, administrative director of the school.

Two of Stanley's three children -- Colleen, 10, and Ryan, 7 -- attended the preschool. In fact, all eight members of the teaching staff have had one or more of their own children enrolled in the program.

"Teaching in a small, non-profit organization will never gain us wealth, but we all love children," said Stanley.

The same enthusiasm motivated another teacher, Christine Kaisler, the mother of six grown children. The youngest, Amy Louise, attended the school in 1967, the year the county's public kindergarten was initiated.

Having moved from Baltimore County, where her other children attended school, Kaisler did not enroll her daughter in the county program because "it was an experimental year."

In the meantime, Ellicott City Kindercraft Inc. had changed its name to Ellicott City Kindergarten Inc. In 1968, to meet the needs of a changing community, the private kindergarten became a preschool, changing its name to Howard County Pre-School Inc.

Kaisler began her career at the preschool when her child entered first grade. After 23 years of teaching, there's no sign of burnout -- only lots of enthusiasm about the children's projects.

"I really enjoy the association with the children and seeing them develop those readiness skills, like when they can't handle scissors in the beginning and then become adept. When that happens, their faces beam," Kaisler said.

In a sunny room smelling like paste and pumpkin pie -- on this day, the students made pumpkin muffins -- the walls are lined with rockets and tugboats that have been made from construction paper. Some of the rockets have been glued onto yellow paper; others have a gray background.

"We gave them the choice of whether the rocket was launched during a sunny or cloudy day. The children chose the colors they wanted to use for the various parts of the tugboat, like the stack or hull," said Kaisler, explaining how she incorporates developmental skills into crafts.

"I like what I do. Teaching is an outlet for my creativity. It's rewarding to see the progress that the children make within a week's time.

And it's really rewarding to find that the children I had in my class have become successful adults," Kaisler said.

"The basis for most of our learning comes between the ages of 4 and 5 and all of our future knowledge is built on that foundation. It's an important period in everyone's life," Kaisler said.

"I enjoy running into former students at the food store, the circus, the post office. Parents always seem to remember the teachers. The children remember, too, when they see us periodically in the neighborhood," Kaisler said.

As a veteran teacher at the preschool, Kaisler has seen a few changes.

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