By Suzanne Besser
Priscilla Fales, who has touched the lives of hundreds of neighborhood children and their families during her 47 years as a Beacon Hill Nursery School teacher, was awarded the 19th annual Beacon Award at Beacon Hill Civic Association Annual Meeting.
In 1969, armed with a brand new early education degree from what was then LaSalle Junior College, Fales took her first step into the school’s Green Room, the classroom for three year olds where she has since spent her entire professional career. It is here that she has nurtured two generations of young children, giving them their earliest exposure to classroom learning and community living.
For nearly five decades happy sounds have radiated from the Green Room as children laugh, sing and dance, often to music Fales strums on her own guitar. There, she starts the little ones on their journey of learning how to be part of a group, share with others and solve problems on their own.
Parents praise her as a kind, caring, warm and supportive teacher. Her special way with children draws them back years after they have outgrown their nursery school days.
Others admire her constant striving to improve her curriculum. While various theories of early educational have come and gone over the years, Fales said the overall principal has remained the same. “You try to have the curriculum come from the children themselves rather than impose it on them,” she said. “I think that is important. You learn what it is that they want to do, and that is what you follow.”
She delights in simple ways to engage the preschoolers. Using only natural materials, she has designed whole curricula focusing on rocks and sticks. The children build with sticks, decorate them, wrap them, arrange them in vases. “We do a lot of provocations,” she said. “We talk about shadows, reflections and opposites using the rocks. It is fascinating to see that if you set out black and white rocks, most will put the black ones on white paper and the white ones on black paper.”
Most of all, she loves it when the children ask questions and she can help them figure out the answers. “My best moments are when I feel as though we have helped a kid who is struggling so that he struggles less,” she said.
Often that takes weeks of working with the child’s parents to learn what’s best for the child. This is something the community of parents on Beacon Hill value. While most work at least half time, they are committed to their kids’ education and make the time to be a part of it, she said. It’s one of the reasons the nursery school has been a special place at which to work.
The changes she has seen during her long tenure mostly relate to the school’s infrastructure. It has grown to twice its original size. Children can enroll at a younger age and stay through kindergarten. The two playgrounds have been renovated and updated to the current thinking in outdoor play. And, not surprisingly, the young ones are a lot more technology-savvy than they use to be.
Next month, Fales will retire from the Green Room. All these years the school has been her family, said Fales, who never married. She is grateful to it and the community for all she has learned and the support she has been given during her professional life. Now she looks forward to enjoying other parts of her family, new activities and, importantly, living a life not quite so scheduled.
As one parent said, “While the thought of spending 47 years with the toddler set would make many of us shudder, Priscilla has made it her life’s work. For that, the Beacon Hill community is immeasurably thankful.”