Teacher Tuesday: Small Wonders’ Ms. Melanie

August 25, 2020

Teacher Tuesday: Small Wonders’ Ms. Melanie

Teacher Tuesday is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, www.shelbystatebank.com.

By Kate Krieger, MCP Staff Writer.

PERE MARQUETTE TOWNSHIP – Melanie Hargreaves was always told by her mother and others that she would make a great teacher. She is now the lead preschool teacher and Great Start Readiness Program teacher at Small Wonders Child Development Center, located on Johnson Road. 

“My mother always told me I should become a teacher,” Hargreaves said. “She reminds me of that all of the time, but I couldn’t see myself teaching elementary, junior high, or high school aged children. It didn’t seem to fit. I had so many influential teachers growing up, but it still didn’t seem right for me. When my boys started preschool at Mason County Central’s Victory Early Childhood Center, I volunteered in the classroom as often as I could. I quickly fell in love with early childhood education. I wanted to be a preschool teacher. However, it wasn’t that easy, or so I thought.”

Returning to college wasn’t the most pleasant thought for Hargreaves. Not only was she already working a steady job, she was married and had two young boys to look after.

“I was terrified to go back to college,” she said. “I pictured myself as the old lady in a classroom full of 18-year-olds. Plus, I had two young boys, a husband, a full-time job, bills; there was no way I could do it. So, I just carried on, life as usual. My dream to become a teacher gnawed at me. For some reason one day in August of 2015, I was on my way home from work and I didn’t turn down my road, I continued down Stiles Road to West Shore Community College. I walked into the Schoenherr Center and requested a course catalog. I had a friend, who had been taking courses, and she helped me with the ins and outs of college life as an older student. She gave me the courage to apply.”

Getting the information she needed to possibly start a brand new journey, Hargreaves returned to WSCC the next week with her husband by her side.

“A week or so later, I walked into the Schoenherr Center again for the annual back to school open house,” she said. “I made my husband go with me because I was so scared. The first person to greet me was a professor at the college. She asked me what I was looking to do and I told her I wanted to become a preschool teacher. She smiled and if you know her, you know that smile and said, ‘I am Lisa Morley, professor of early childhood education.’  By the end of the month I was attending my first college course in over 20 years.”

With some volunteering in her boys’ preschool classes and doing story time at her church, Hargreaves didn’t really have any other experience working with young children, but that all changed when she met her current boss and co-worker.

“Kathy Gibson hired me at Small Wonders Child Development Center in Ludington in 2015 as an assistant teacher in the preschool classroom,” Hargreaves said. “I had just enrolled at WSCC. She took a chance on me and I am forever grateful. The next year I took over the lead position. In 2017, I had the opportunity to be a part of the team that opened Next Generation Learning Center in Manistee, a much-needed addition to the Manistee community. I was the Great Start Readiness Program Assistant Teacher. After just over a year in Manistee, I returned to Small Wonders as the lead teacher in the preschool classroom.

“In the spring of 2019, Small Wonders partnered with the West Shore Educational Service District to offer the Great Start Readiness Program. This will be our third year offering the program.”

Working full-time and attending college, Hargreaves was well on her way to complete her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

“At the age of 40, I graduated with high honors and the Outstanding Graduate of Occupational Programs from West Shore Community College with an associate of applied arts and sciences degree in early childhood education. This spring I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ferris State University with a bachelor of science in early childhood education. I have enrolled at Northern Michigan University to begin my graduate studies in early childhood education this fall but, Covid-19 and other circumstances have pushed that back for the time being.”

Now, a full-time pre-school teacher, Hargreaves is excited to add her imprint in her student’s lives and help mold them into young human beings.

“In preschool, there is so much to love,” she said. “I get to create environments and experiences for children to learn through play. I base my lessons on the children themselves, what they need and what they are interested in. I mean, these children are going to run the world someday. And I get to be part of their first steps into a lifetime of learning. I give them the opportunity to explore their world, to ask questions, and discover things for themselves. I build brains. It doesn’t get much better than that.

If I had to choose one thing in particular that I love about teaching, it is sharing the love of reading. I love books. I love how young children get into books. Reading out loud, writing stories, and storytelling are all a big part of my classroom. Last year, we had quite a group of authors. The children would write, then read their work to the entire class. They listened and supported each other. It was beautiful.”

Hargreaves’ passion for early childhood education is strong and she hopes more and more people become teachers or just aware of how important starting education with young children actually is.

“We need help,” she said “This isn’t a new problem. We need awareness and we need funding now.

It is suddenly coming to the attention of everyone that without childcare, you can’t work. Without childcare, the economy can’t function. We need help to keep centers afloat and build new centers to provide childcare for all families. We need investment in early childhood now. To many, early childhood education is either ‘just daycare/babysitting’ or ’just playing.’ I’m here to tell you, we don’t just play. We play with a purpose. They are learning. Play helps children develop self-regulation as well as language skills, cognition, and social competence. It gives a child the opportunity to develop motor skills, to understand and make sense of their world, interact with others, express and control emotions, develop problem-solving abilities, and practice all of these skills.”

With the world going through interesting times due to COVID-19 and all educational facilities dealing with less funding, less staff, but a great need to meet educational goals, Hargreaves stated that Small Wonders isn’t any different than any other school or early childhood facility.

“As far as I know, in the almost 25 years Kathy has owned it, you could count how many days Small Wonders closed on one hand,” she said. “And how in the world was I going to teach preschool online? We learn through play and social interactions. We had to get creative.”

The West Shore ESD put together packets for families and Hargreaves, along with the rest of the Small Wonders staff engaged students virtually through reading books to them, sharing activities for them to do and they even held a virtual 5K for their families to participate in.

As school quickly approaches, Hargreaves still has some concerns about her students returning for pre-school, but she stated that they will do their best to make the most of it.

“For my program (GSRP), we are still waiting for word from the state,” she said. “I’m hopeful that funding will remain intact and once that word comes down, we can start getting ready for the children. The region’s program start date has already been cautiously pushed back to October 5th. I know families are nervous about what the fall will bring. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t too, but I’m ready to hit the ground running.”

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