There is an astonishing kindergarten teacher in California named Betty Peck. Well, she’s a retired kindergarten teacher now. She’s 96 years old and taught kindergarten for 50 years. She’s a role model for us all.
When you hear her talk, you are amazed at her teaching (and life) experiences, but the one thing that shines through is her love of children.
She was a kindergarten teacher when kindergarten was still kindergarten. She was begged by a principal to take the position, and she said she would under two conditions: she had to have an oven in the classroom to bake bread and other goodies, and there had to be a garden outside her door.
Yes, she took kindergarten—child and garden—literally.
Her kindergarten was a place for children to grow by exploring nature, reading stories, singing songs, playing together and, most of all, through love.
When you see her former students with her, they reflect the love they experienced when they were lucky enough to be in her classroom.
At one point, maintenance wanted to build shelves in her room, but she told the workmen that she needed to have doors on the shelves so that when the students opened those doors, they would see themselves in a full-length mirror.
Peck said, “When a child forgot how wonderful he was, I just opened the door to my magic cupboard and said, ‘Come here, Richard,…look at yourself. How could you forget how wonderful you are? Look in that mirror.’ And they’d look in the mirror and just melt.”
Yes, they just had to be reminded how wonderful they were, how special they were. They also had to be reminded of how special the teacher saw the student, how much she cared about him and how highly she thought of him.
Her wish is that every kindergarten, home and garden have a magic mirror so that all can be reminded of how wonderful they are, which is sometimes easy to forget in our often cynical and pessimistic world.
It’s good advice for all of us. Listening to the Virginia Main Street discussion in Radford last week, people metaphorically looked into a mirror and were reminded, “how wonderful they are.”
Part of the activities designed by the Main Street facilitators for Radford included analyzing Radford’s strengths, needs, possibilities and some recommended “first steps” as the city looks at ways to boost economic development.
What stood out were the strengths. The needs and the possibilities for a city will be debated and analyzed, but sometimes people fail to look in their “magic mirror” and see what a wonderful community they have—how wonderful they are as a people.
Of course, the New River stands out as an incredible gift for the community and an absolute strength for future enterprises, but many of the rest of the strengths revolve around people.
For example, Radford University is not just a number of buildings; it is the people who support every function of its existence. From the president to the cafeteria worker, everyone interacts together to accomplish the mission of providing knowledge so that people can grow.
The school system came up regularly as a strength with stakeholder groups. Again, all constituencies within the schools work in unison to help the community grow, especially the students, whose futures depend on every adult in the schools working as a team.
Of course, volunteers and charitable organizations came up. There are many different groups dedicated to helping others. Some help children have food to eat on weekends.
Others make it possible for people to have a winter coat for the winter. Still others provide lunch for those who would not eat otherwise.
Volunteers help beautify the city, support city projects, assist with historical activities—the list is endless.
All of these different groups and organizations have people working together to help others. All of these people make the city the great place that it is.
There are many other strengths that the participants involved in the process identified, but the people make a huge difference in the success of the city.
The Main Street representatives emphasized that it is the community that will also make the difference in the implementation of a plan to improve economic outcomes for a city. It is not a top-down process where a few people in power wave a magic wand and everything improves.
It will take everyone in the city working in unison to create a sustainable, economically vibrant plan for Radford.
Sometimes issues seem overwhelmingly difficult and people are doubtful about finding solutions.
That’s when they need to look in that magic mirror, realize how wonderful they are as a community, and know that the answers are right there, among themselves.
And the wonderful people of Radford, as they always do, will step forward to help create the kind of city they want for themselves and for generations to come.
After all, the magic is not in the mirror; it is in the people who view it.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.