Posts Tagged ‘First Sprouts’

By Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Melissa Brooks, Susan Brown,  Jeannie Dortch and Len Morrow.

“When someone asks me why I am a Christian, I say, ‘Do you
know the song, “Jesus Loves Me?”  If the answer is no, I sing it.’”  Mary Hiteman

First Baptist Church Weekday School (FBCW) has been bringing smiles to children’s faces for 66 years, and for 31 of them Mary Hiteman, Minister of Weekday Education, has been wearing a smile wider than those of her students.

Mary Hiteman

Miss Mary entering outer space with several preschool astronauts. Photo: Jeannie Dortch

For more than three decades, Mary has also been thinking outside the box: helping her families reach out to each other, the community and the world. Whether gardening with First Sprouts, partnering with Little Kicks’ soccer enrichment program for preschools, leading monthly service projects, visiting hospitals, or sharing different cultures through Small World, Mary is always up to something new.

“My first love is working with preschoolers, followed by training teachers to work with preschoolers.” Mary attributes the phenomenal reputation of FBCW to the “amazing faculty and the great facilities.”

But the students, parents and colleagues reveal the real secret ingredient behind the school’s success, Mary herself!

Students: “Miss Mary is the principal.”
“She welcomes us in.”
“She tells us what to do and says please.”
“She teaches us what’s in chapel and tells us reading stories.”
“Her puts music on and teaches choir.”
“I like her because she has red hair!”

Linn Kreckman, co-founder of MOM (Morning Out for Moms), the program that preceded FBCW, and mother of three children and four grandchildren attendees of FBCW: “Mary has an unassuming respect for all children. I remember her being asked about her colorful assortment of jewelry, which she wears with pride. She answered, ‘I work with children!’ The macaroni necklace she sported at the time was a gift from a young admirer.”

Gracie Barbour, teacher: “Miss Mary never misses a day greeting each child and parent in the morning as they enter and again each afternoon as they leave.”

Richie Hilbert, volunteer classroom assistant and grandmother of six attendees of FBCW: “The teachers at FBCW are graced with hearts full of unconditional love for children, a positive approach to discipline, and a genuine gift for teaching. The tone is set at the top of any organization, and Mary’s leadership is exemplary.”

Preschool feast

Preschool celebrating a Thanksgiving feast in 2009 that included
sweet and white potatoes grown in the Children’s Garden. Photo: Len Morrow

For several years Mary and Dr. Len Morrow, retired botanist and teacher, have been on a mission to teach children that what we eat is nurtured and grown in a garden and not in a grocery store. Together, they established First Sprouts, a program in which FBCW maintains the Children’s Garden at FBC’s Pusey House. Their bounty has benefited the refugee population and has supplied FBC’s kitchen with vegetables and flowers for other occasions. Len, aka Dr. Potato Head, reveres Miss Mary: “A consummate professional hiding behind a clown’s smile, Mary is one of the few people I’ve ever met who are successful at multi-tasking.”

Book Buddies

Photo: Melissa Brooks

Melissa Ansley Brooks, parent: “Soon after I approached her with the Book Buddies concept (a program connecting students at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School with FBCW), she enthusiastically and seamlessly organized parent involvement, staff collaboration, and contributions from the community at large, igniting a genuine friendship between two groups of children who might not have otherwise crossed paths in life.”

Dan Bagby, Ph.D, Professor of Pastoral Care, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond: “Mary has a presence that communicates care and gifted guidance. Whenever she visits BTSR, our seminarians are always touched by the gentle examples she offers in responding to a child facing loss or in helping a parent understand how children grieve.”

Suzanne Shonnard, member of FBCW’s Board: “Exuding joy in every aspect of her work comes naturally for Mary. It overflows whether she is telling or listening to her students tell the stories of Jesus, or when she is putting His words into action while working with ASK (program for children with cancer). Through Mary’s leadership and her desire to expose her staff and students to all of God’s people, children under her tutelage learn that God truly has the whole world in his hands!”

Small World program

Photo: Susan Brown

A desire to introduce students to other children the world over led Miss Mary to inaugurate a multi-cultural celebration of countries on different continents. Since 1996, Small World has exposed FBCW’s preschoolers to languages, customs and songs that highlight similarities rather than differences. Mrs. Audrey Matlala, an appreciative parent wrote, “A heartfelt thanks to the school for honoring our homeland, South Africa, through teaching Neo’s preschool class about our heritage and language. This makes Neo so proud of his roots. Last night, he was teaching his sister the ‘Head and Shoulders’ song in our native language and it brought tears to my eyes to see.”

And finally,
Mary: “Whenever I need to comfort a child, we sit together in my office and close the door.  The light from the hall illuminates the stained glass window “Jesus and the Children” above my desk. As we talk, both of us are reassured in His presence, and my little charge becomes calmer as a result.”

Editor’s note: Mary began her career at FBCW on September 1, 1982. If you would like to help celebrate her anniversary, share a comment below.

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