A constant presence at Lissa’s, Melissa makes sure everyone’s happy. Walking the hallways in a supportive role to her teachers, she also drops Learning Ladder kids off at school in the Learning Ladder’s bus.
A vigilant business owner, she knows what is going on in every room.
She hosts parents interested in taking tours, files paperwork, does laundry and the dishes, collects monthly fees, gets groceries and art supplies, and fills in for teachers needing time off. She also decorates the Learning Ladder according to the season or holiday.
She’s constantly asking teachers what they need in their classrooms.
“I’m sort of like the main mom,” says Melissa, who also enjoys mowing the preschool’s lawn, “I like things to be perfect here. I don’t like being gone; it’s my baby. That’s why I’m confident in my business.”
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing it right. The kids from Lissa’s Learning Ladder are good kids,’” said a Joplin Elementary Kindergarten teacher.
AnneMarie’s preschool classroom philosophy is solid. Each child knows the boundaries, but also has a sure knowledge that they’re loved.
“To me,” says AnneMarie, “that’s everything. It’s a good mix. My teaching style evolved because Kindergarten is not the butterflies and roses it once was. The current emphasis is more on education, and less on fun. We have a lot of fun here, but everything we do is at Kindergarten level.”
Although many view preschool as playschool, AnneMarie tends to correct that assumption.
“It’s not all play and art. We do a lot of that, but we also do two worksheets per day in preparation for school. Those now in Kindergarten say they did more work here than when first entering school, which made it easier as their workload increased during the school year. When five-year-olds tell me they’re glad they were prepared…wow. It’s what any good, mothering type would do: give them a safe nest, prepare them, teach them to stay on task, and then give them wings to fly.”
“I’ve been teaching for years,” AnneMarie says, “but these are smart kids. I think it’s the small, safe community atmosphere with lots of stimulation, and the involvement of the parents.”
AnneMarie’s classroom has a great “vibe”.
“It’s a happy, good, yellow (my favorite color) room that’s been kind to us, and it just seems to have a lot of light,” AnneMarie explains, “There are table toys, materials for coloring; the kids want to be there.”
“There’s just something about her” is a phrase often used to describe AnneMarie.
“I try to be very connected,” she nods, “a few experiences have opened my eyes to truly amazing things that I’ve never seen before, but it wasn’t always that way. At one point, I had gone through a hard situation with a difficult boss, and was just done with childcare. I’d been out of the profession for a while when a friend suggested I stop by the new Lissa’s Learning Ladder facility. One day I pulled into the driveway, and there stood Dennis, Josh, and Melissa Peterson. Dennis and Josh started razzing me right away, and being the mother of all boys, I razzed them back, while instantly connecting with Melissa.”
AnneMarie teaches preschoolers the song she made up, “We can do this, we can do this, by ourselves, by ourselves, I’m going to Kindergarten, going to Kindergarten, next fall, next fall.”
“They sing it all the time, ‘we can do this’. It helps them get through. I hope they’ll sing that song to themselves on their first day of school.”
“The twos and threes are wonderful, like little sponges you can soak so much into. The classroom is fun, energetic, exciting, and I enjoy every day.”
Elaine has always liked working with kids, starting an in-home daycare that hosted multiple ages, while an associate taught preschool upstairs. She’s been working with children ever since, including fifteen years as cook and head cashier with the Meridian School district.
“Everyone knows me as the Lake Hazel lunch lady,” she says.
Elaine returned to daycare, working in a large, corporate facility.
“That’s where I found that corporate was not really my thing,” she recalls, “I worked hard, and took work home, too, because everything had to be so perfect. It was a situation where I just did it, because it was my job. I eventually took some time off for a while, and then I met up with Melissa…”
“I can be myself at Lissa’s, and I love it. If I have an idea, Melissa says, ‘go for it’, and gets me whatever I need. At the corporate daycare, it took about a month to get things for our classrooms. Since materials were needed sooner than that, we wound up buying things ourselves, which wasn’t so great. I tell Melissa what I need one week in advance, and she gets it. It’s amazing.”
Well-versed in preschool requirements, Elaine is big on things like word walls, displaying words two- and three-year olds can pronounce and learn the definitions of.
“Literacy is deeply rooted in me, and I’m helping the kids soak it up, too. I make sure they see their names every day. Parents get excited over that, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, words! And the kids know how to write them!’”
“When I’ve done initial walk-throughs, the parents are flabbergasted. They say, ‘Did kids do these? You do this with them? You teach them their colors and how to write their names?’”
Elaine adds, “I also hear, ‘My child is talking more at home, when he hardly talked at all before.’ I feel it’s the stimulation with the other kids, the conversations we have, and our constantly speaking to them in a positive way. We have children here from seven a.m. until six p.m., five days a week. During those hours, positivity is the best possible thing you can offer.”
Elaine helps those children turning two transition into the “big room”.
“To me, they’re a ‘young’ two. I bring them into my room permanently, but let them visit their former room, knowing it’s only a visit. Then I get them interested in art, writing, and coloring. They’re ready for that. In the one-year-old room there isn’t as much touching of messy things, but in the two-year-old room, it’s encouraged. I want their hands in paint and glue. It’s a good feeling for them, it’s texture, and it’s fun!”
When in Elaine’s class, there is a high likelihood of salsa dancing.
“I love to dance,” she laughs, “We turn that music up when it’s dance time. I teach the kids salsa moves, they use their handkerchiefs, and we go around the table. They learn their shapes, their colors, their names, they get a little messy…and they learn a little salsa.”
“I’m the floater,” Vivian says, “Me and the babies. I pick up a baby and move around with them, being that extra set of hands. The babies and I tend to get bored if we’re in one place for too long, so we travel together from room to room. I go where the help is required, talk to parents that come in, and do walk-throughs. I’m good at troubleshooting and picking up the slack, being a hostess, or spending time with kids that need a little extra attention.”
“If Melissa is doing a walk-through for new parents or interviewing, I’ll take over wherever I’m needed. I just help out wherever,” Vivian says, adding, “I sort of feel like my personality is well-suited for floating, and the babies love it. I’ll put them in strollers, walk them around, and let them sit with me wherever I am.”
Vivian discovered Lissa’s Learning Ladder through her sister, Elaine. When Elaine needed some time off to help a granddaughter that was having surgery, Vivian stepped in to help out, holding Elaine’s place. Vivian got her license and began working, continuing on at Lissa’s even after Elaine’s return.
“I saw her working here, and how she’s totally happier than at other places she’s worked. My sister loves doing daycare, and I now understand why she likes it. There are times it can overwhelm, but things are better here in this happy environment.”
It seems like a Madrill family reunion at Lissa’s some days, with sister Elaine calling Vivian by her nickname of “Cooshie” every now and then.
Vivian likes all of the children, but admits to having favorites.
“The babies. I love the babies.”
Vivian also appreciates the feeling at Lissa’s.
“Everyone’s friendly. Nobody comes in here grumpy, and I like that.”
Vivian helps in the kitchen, too, talking with Melissa and others while preparing meals for the kids. The cooking part of things is something Vivian might like to keep on the down low, though.
“Shhh…” she says in a conspiring tone, “I don’t like to cook. I’ve been married for twenty-plus years now, and I think I’ve made a total of six dinners. The food’s gone in about five seconds, and then there’s a mess to clean up. So, I buy everything frozen or go to my mom’s.”
Every room at the Learning Ladder appreciates having Vivian in it.
Angel Madrill has a soft, sweet way of making children feel comfortable. Lissa’s Learning Ladder kids of all ages have already formed a special connection.
“Because my mom has been a daycare and preschool worker for years, I’ve grown up knowing hundreds of kids,” says Angel, who is more than capable of watching over the babies and toddlers in her charge.
“I also have a niece and second cousin that have been close to me. I helped raise that second cousin, who’ll soon be twelve, and my niece, who’ll soon be turning six, has lived with us since she was born. I love kids.”
This is what made Angel a natural choice for Lissa’s Learning Ladder. Once assigned a room of her own, Angel went to task, organizing the space her way, putting children’s initials in baby block form on their cubbies, and creating an art wall with personalized picture frames of each child.
“I like decorating,” she says humbly, “and Lissa lets me use my ideas. This is an amazing place, I love it here.”
One of Angel’s greatest rewards in her position is to be in place to see children going from babies to extremely aware toddlers that are experiencing so many “firsts”.
“Those that are getting closer to turning one know which cubby is theirs. They’ll look at their picture and realize, ‘that’s me!’ They really start ‘getting it’. I get to see that. And for some, I’ll witness some of their first words, and some of their first steps, too.”
Angel encourages walking for the babies who are ready, taking a few minutes with each of them daily as they stand and lean on toys especially designed to foster the activity.
“Just so they can get into the groove,” she says.
Another thing she likes to do is to let the younger children spend a little time with the older class of two-and three-year-olds for a short time during the day.
“They’re in their walkers and can go where they’d like within the room. The two-and three-year-olds get to have that baby experience, and it’s interesting to see how they react to each other. Both older and younger children think that’s a real treat.”
Though stimulation is important to growing children, Angel also appreciates the beauty of down time between teachers, infants, and toddlers.
“I have a lot of fun with them, just getting on the floor and playing,” she tells us, “I think that people who are new to being around babies tend to be unsure. The best thing to do is to get down on a baby’s level, pretty much be a baby with them. Isn’t that what you’d like, if that were you? Babies will just light up when you do that.”
“I have one little baby,” she shares, “That, once I’m on the floor, crawls straight to me.”
Although there are a lot of plans for upcoming arts and crafts, Angel still holds to the beauty of the simple moments, something not everyone gets enough of.
“…being on the floor with the kids, watching them roll around, acting silly, allowing them to crawl on me. Whatever they want to do. I’m just enjoying being with them as we relax, listen to the classical music, and play.”