Generations of Love: Hartland Honors Retiring Preschool Teacher
Carol Withington is retiring at the end of the school year after 31 years of teaching at Hartland Cooperative Nursery School. She was honored with a party yesterday at Hartland Recreational Center in Hartland. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartland Cooperative Nursery School teacher Carol Withington embraces Nancy Hall during Withington’s retirement party yesterday. Hall was her class aid for six years. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartland — More than a dozen class photos tacked to a farewell poster yesterday showcased the smiles of two generations-worth of Hartland-area preschoolers.
Behind the rows of young learners, there was an enduring constant — the equally enthusiastic smile of Carol Withington, a teacher at Hartland Cooperative Nursery School who celebrated her pending retirement yesterday after 31 years at the preschool.
Sarah Stewart Taylor, who helped organize yesterday’s party, spoke about Withington’s ability to make every child feel as though they were “the favorite.”
Taylor, too, said she was convinced at first that Withington had singled out her now 8-year-old son, Judson, as the favored student in his class.
“Then I saw her with all the kids, and I realized she makes every single kid feel that way, like the most special kid in the world,” said Taylor. “It’s just an amazing talent.”
Former students now in their 20s showed up to offer well-wishes to their former teacher, who they still refer to as “Mrs. Carol.” Taylor said that Withington’s ability to bolster the spirits of youngsters resonates to an uncommon degree in town.
“Part of that, too, is that Hartland is a very close-knit town,” said Taylor. “Everybody in Hartland had Mrs. Carol. It’s a real point of connection here.”
Scanning the farewell poster, Nancy Spencer looked for familiar faces. Spencer, who attended the preschool 30 years ago, said that her years at the school had “a lot” of impact on her attitude toward learning.
“She was always very happy, cheerful, and accepting, and just really warm and wanting to be there,” said Spencer. “She’s just a great person, she’s always been like that.”
In three decades of teaching, Withington said that early education, “On the whole ... has changed for the better.”
Withington, 62, said that state-run programs in Vermont such as the Step Ahead Recognition System, used to indicate preschool quality, and the Early Learning Standards program, are helping to ensure a baseline level of quality. But she added that expectations are often too high when it comes to early childhood education.
“I have to tell you, I think they’re asking too much of the little ones,” said Withington. “I believe in having them be kids, and play is so important.”
Withington said a basic foundation of academic skills can come as a product of the social component, which she described as the “most important” aspect early childhood education.
“How to be a friend, how to share, the encouragement to do that,” said Withington. “My goal is that they all feel good about themselves after two years ... They will succeed if they feel good about themselves.”
Colleen Lannon, who sits on the board of directors for the Hartland Cooperative Nursery School, described Withington as a “pillar” of the preschool, where 24 3-year-olds and 35 4-year-olds from Hartland, Windsor, and West Windsor attend.
Lannon, too, said that the most important part of the preschool experience was learning through play.
“They learn through interacting with their environment, and the basic message that they try to teach the children is that learning is fun,” said Lannon.
Lannon said that grade school’s tendency to focus on standards and testing often distracts students from “the most fundamental thing, which is the love of learning.
“Carol loves the children,” Lannon said. “She shows them a lot of love, and shows them how to love what they’re doing, and I think that’s crucial at that age.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.