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Preschool celebrates 40 years of molding young students

November 3, 2002 6:51 am

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LEFT: In 1963, Sammy White (center) lived next door to and attended the original 'mission school,' known as The Charles Street Settlement House. locohamrick3.jpg

Nine-year-old Jasmine Tyler, a former student at Anne Hamrick Community House, performs a dance routine during the anniversary presentation. Former and present students, teachers, parents and board members gathered at Walker-Grant Middle School last Saturday to celebrate the preschool's 40 years. locohamrick2.jpg

Cleo Lewis (center) hugs former student Gabrielle Carter as AHCH Board of Directors President Sha Williams-Hinnant (left) looks on. locohamrick1.jpg

ABOVE: Betty Banks (left) serves Danie White, 6, while Anne Hamrick Community House board member Elric Green waits his turn at the reception.

By AMY UMBLE

SOMETIMES it pays to listen to your teachers.

Cleo Lewis did, and she's been thankful ever since.

Two of her teachers talked Lewis into a teaching job she has loved for more than 30 years.

In 1968, Marion Bowles and Maude Richardson, Lewis's former librarian and fourth-grade teacher at Walker-Grant Elementary School, served on the board of a preschool for disadvantaged children.

The preschool's director left to teach at Fredericksburg City Schools, and the board needed a new teacher.

Bowles and Richardson were convinced Lewis could be that teacher.

Lewis was not convinced.

"I didn't think I could handle it," Lewis said.

So she proposed a compromise: She would teach the preschool for a month while the board continued to look for another teacher.

Thirty-four years later, Lewis said, "I guess they're still looking."

That preschool, the Anne Hamrick Community House, commemorated 40 years of service to the community last Saturday. About 50 former and present students, teachers, parents and board members attended the anniversary celebration at Walker-Grant Middle School in Fredericksburg.

For Lewis, the celebration was a triple one. Along with the preschool's anniversary, she personally celebrated both a long teaching career and a birthday, though she won't mention which birthday it is for her.

"I have a lot to celebrate, a lot to thank God for," Lewis said.

Back in the '50s, Anne Hamrick, a local Methodist minister, and Julia Tyler were concerned about children without supervision in the Mayfield area.

Their parents were often busy working, and Hamrick and Tyler wanted the children to have a place to go.

So they found a house on Charles Street and opened the Charles Street Settlement House in 1958.

According to Sammy White, who attended the preschool in 1963, the area residents referred to it as "the mission school," and a sign outside the school proclaimed it as such.

The settlement house served as a preschool in the mornings, a place for older children to go in the afternoons, and a homework area in the evenings. Tutors came to the house for the evening homework sessions.

Many other people came to volunteer to teach the students, said White. In addition to academic studies, students at the settlement house learned sewing and cooking skills.

In 1962, the Methodist Church transferred Hamrick to a pastorate outside the area, but the school continued to serve students after she left. The board of trustees kept the school running and changed its name to the Anne Hamrick Community House in 1962.

With Hamrick's absence, the preschool changed directors a couple of times until Lewis came on board in 1968. Since then, the preschool has changed locations several times to its current site at the Presbyerian Church in Fredericksburg. Board members have come and gone, but the one constant has been Lewis.

Through the years, Lewis has observed many changes in the preschool. Most notably, the children have changed.

"They don't seem to be kids, to really be kids anymore," Lewis said.

She credits the changing society with the changes in children. Through technology, according to Lewis, children are exposed to more. She noted that while the children are "growing up too fast these days," they're also smarter.

In the beginning, the school catered first to disadvantaged children, and other children could take up any spaces that were left. The preschool offered two classes for children ages 4-5.

Then, in the '60s when public schools began offering kindergarten, the school served children ages 3-4 and continued to offer both a morning class and an afternoon class, often teaching more than 40 preschoolers in a single school year.

With the advent of Head Start, which came to the Fredericksburg area in 1968, the Anne Hamrick Community House experienced more changes. Suddenly, there wasn't as great a need for preschool for the poorer children, and the school's numbers dropped.

This year, Lewis teaches 13 students, her smallest class size yet, and she teaches only one morning class.

But some things never change. While the preschool has always taught the fundamentals of school, like the alphabet and basic counting, its emphasis has also been on giving the students confidence.

"Our position is to promote confidence and to get them some self-esteem and to get them ready for the big world out there," Lewis said.

White also noted that the students learned confidence, even back in 1963.

"They taught us dignity when times were hard," he said.

Brenda Sloan, a board member, observed that the students seem to gain confidence in only one school year.

"You see them in September, and they're bashful, and they cry," she said. "And you see them in May and they're reciting poetry."

The appeal of Anne Hamrick Community House is strong, so strong that many former students send their own children to the school.

"Anne Hamrick is well-known from generation to generation," Lewis said.

White sent his own son to the preschool, and he credits the school with helping his son to become a Navy SEAL.

"Sending my son there, I knew what he'd turn out to be," White said. "They mold you."





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