At the end of May, Hills and Dales Pre-school will be closing its doors after 43 years of loving service to the children of Wheeling and the surrounding areas. The jars of paste, the boxes of eight chubby Crayola crayons, and the shelves of picture books will be put away for good. The school, which served the three- and four- year-olds of our town at Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church, most recently under the capable hands of Carol Myers and Priscilla Gompers, will become quiet from the laughter and buzz of busy children learning.
It is a huge loss to our community .
My own four children attended Hills and Dales many years ago. It was there that they got their first taste of school and independence from home. It was the beginning of their love affair with life-long learning. That first try at formal education was the start of their loving the time they spent in school. It provided them with a safe environment to try new things without harsh judgment. It was that toe-in-the- water experience that made them love school.
Hills and Dales, which was established by Phyllis Gundling in 1970, has had many excellent teachers over the years. Each one had the same philosophy that home is the child's first school, and their job was to not change your child, but help them reach their potential by introducing them to new things in a pressure-free setting. In recent years, Pris Gompers and Carol Myers have been the teachers who nurtured the children in the joys of reading, math, socialization, and exploration of their world. They have given up countless hours of their time outside of the school day preparing for lessons, collecting materials, and reading texts about current trends in education. They have garnered a reputation as an outstanding faculty.
One of my most vivid memories as a young mother was when my first son, Charlie, was in "Mrs. Carol's" class. He was three years old, with an appetite for anything about dinosaurs. "Mrs. Carol" saw to it that there were books, art projects, and model dinosaurs galore to satisfy this young scientist's hunger. One day he came home with a yellow plastic dinosaur gripped in his little hand. I asked him where he got it, and he told me it belonged to his teacher. As a new mother, I was horrified that my three-year-old had just stolen something he loved. We had a talk about taking things that don't belong to you and returned to school to give the dinosaur back to its rightful owner. Carol just smiled sweetly and talked to Charlie with a soothing voice that I am sure was for my benefit as much as the tearful child. She told him he could borrow the dinosaur for the weekend and then exchange it for another one on Monday to enjoy. To me she mouthed the words. "It will be OK. He is just learning." Charlie and I both skipped to the car ... he with the beloved dinosaur and me with a lighter heart. We both had learned a valuable lesson about kindness and life.
It is with great sadness that I say good-bye to Hills and Dales Preschool. I know that my children are better human beings because of the start that they received there. I hope that future fledgling students find their own safe haven where they can explore and become life long learners. Hills and Dales was a wonderful place for my baby birds to learn to fly. It will be missed.