(Photo: Sue Blackhall (left) and Judy Starr are two teachers at Stittsville Co-Operative Nursery School who are retiring this year after many years of working at the facility. Photo by Barry Gray.)
“Goodbye my joy!”
In response, chubby little hands and arms reach out to encircle nursery school teacher Sue Blackhall before running off.
For the past 23 years, Blackhall has been teaching children and preparing them to enter school in a home away from home at the Stittsville Cooperative Nursery School (SCNS.)
“It is the best job in the world – they share their children with us,” says Blackhall. “What more could you want? The children bring us so much joy.”
A trained teacher from England, Blackhall worked in a variety of schools and preschools in the Ottawa area before her own daughter attended SCNS. After that, there was no looking back.
Now, she’s stepping back from her duties at the nursery school, at the same time as Judy Starr, another long-time teacher at the school. For the past 15 years they have worked together. Starr, a former pediatric nurse, also had her first introduction to SCNS as an involved parent.
Together, they have made a great team. “We just respect and love each other so much and have the same philosophy about the program. It just works,” says Blackhall.
Starr echoes those sentiments. “I learned an awful lot from Sue – learning ways to excite kids but also keeping order in the classroom. Sue is absolutely amazing at that and she has a great sense of fun.”
The families whose lives they have touched agree. “The really take the time to know each child,” says Cassandra Grant, a SCNS parent. “To know their personalities, what they need and they really seem to respect that.”
SCNS business manager and former school parent Stefanie Papineau talks about what keeps families coming to the school. “It’s like a second home,” she says. “They become your parents who have your best interests at heart.”
“Genuinely, they (the teachers) fall in love with every child that enters their and every year at the end of the year they are in tears over saying goodbye. Their hearts and souls are with the kids,” says Papineau.
With great modesty, both Blackhall and Starr attribute their success to the school program. SCNS, founded in 1971 by a group of local parents, is based on the cooperative preschool model. The cooperative approach engages parents in the first educational experiences of their children.
Today, a team of teachers and families come together in a child-centered environment that helps children prepare to be successful in school by building the skills they need.
Starr best describes the program saying, “It’s parents investing in their kids lives.”
It’s also about building a sense of community.
Blackhall talks about the cooperative philosophy as building the community too. “It takes a village to raise child,” she said. “And we are that village.” Blackhall sees the SCNS program as the first opportunity for many young families to start participating in the community and getting to know each other.
“Life happens all around but it’s in our own community,” says Starr. “It is building that community. It gives me hope for the future.”
And Blackhall and Starr wouldn’t have it any other way. After years of playing on the floor, making fairy wands, cleaning messes and wiping tears, they still love it.
“I absolutely love, with all my heart, every child who comes through the door,” says Starr. Even during tough time, she explained “You don’t have any idea how much they cheer me up – it’s like you are letting us borrow them for a couple hours.”
“They are the lights of my life,” says Blackhall. “They just bring me so much joy and pleasure and happiness.”
Both Blackhall and Starr say the decision to retire was difficult. And so the end of this school year will be bittersweet and perhaps filled with a few more tears than usual.
Of course, there will be lots of hugs from the children and some from their parents too. And each one will feel uplifted as they are told, one last time, “Goodbye, my joy.”
For more information about SCNS, visit www.scns.ca
SUPPORT LOCAL STITTSVILLE