Published 4:27 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017
By Jill Osborn
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime,” Mark Twain once said about the importance of traveling. Even though Susan Hedgepeth admits she may get homesick from time to time when she travels, the kindergarten teacher has never let that stop her from going places. In fact, travel is what Susan believes has made her a better educator. “I think the more you know and broaden your experiences, the more you have to share with children and the better you can be,” acknowledges Susan. While most teachers have the same curriculum every year, Susan keeps it fresh by changing it up each year. She does this to challenge herself and to find new crafts for each child. “Yes, I care about education philosophies, but I also care about other ways to educate. There is so much more to share with children then what they teach you in college.”
As young child, Susan enjoyed her youth. “My parents were wonderful. I was very happy and very proud of them,” says Susan. “When I was growing up, people had lots of young parents. I had a very young mother and I loved that.” Susan’s mother thought it was important for her budding young girl to get a high school education at St. Mary’s in Raleigh. At the time, St. Mary’s was a two-year all-girls high school and two-year all-girls college. “I was terrified to go and was homesick. But since it was also a college, I felt like I was treated older than someone who was in high school.”
At that time, it was common for many young women to major in education in college. “Growing up, a lot of times, you would be told, ‘Major in education, because it would be a good thing to do if you wanted a job.’ They told girls teaching was a good fall-back. A lot of people majored in education, but not a lot of people stuck with it.” Upon graduation of high school, Susan was presented with an opportunity to take a trip to Europe to study art history. There was a group gathering together from her hometown of Greensboro. “That was my first really big trip overseas. We traveled to several countries,” says Susan. “When I took classes in art history in college, the professor would show pictures–I had already traveled to the places he would be showing pictures of.”
At Chapel Hill, Susan majored in education and received a masters in education. She also met her future husband, Jay, at Chapel Hill. “He was a rising senior in college and I had finished graduate school.” As Jay finished school, Susan worked. Her first job was as a kindergarten teacher for a school in Hillsborough. Kindergarten was a new program then. Many parents kept their children home until first grade. Susan’s first job teaching in the Raleigh area only lasted for a year. She and her husband were headed to Winston-Salem when Jay was accepted to Wake Forest Law School.
It was in Winston that Susan got a job as a kindergarten teacher at Old Town School. It was the first year the school incorporated a kindergarten program. From the start, her classroom was well populated. Susan had twenty-six kids in one classroom. Susan loved being on the cusp of something innovative and fresh. “When you are in on something new, you get opportunities to try new things.”
Susan recalls, “I asked for a sandbox. We planted a garden and made salads with the lettuce. They gave us a budget separate from the school. We had to order all of our own materials. That went on for a number of years. Eventually we all got on the same budget.” Susan taught for eight years. The last year, she was ready for a baby. In fact, she had made a cozy nursery. Susan eagerly waited for a baby to come rest its angelic head in the crib. Finally, she received a call from The Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. They had a beautiful baby girl waiting for Susan and Jay to adopt. They named her Kate. “Everyone loved her as soon as we brought her home. I was requested to stay at home with her for five years, but I stayed home with her for eight,” says Susan. “She brought so much joy into our lives from the first time we held her and continues now and will forever.”
As Kate grew, she attended Summit School. Susan began to substitute teach. Eventually, a job opened for a kindergartner teaching position. Susan easily took the spot. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to work full-time, but I knew if I did not take the position, I might not have the opportunity presented again for a long time,” notes Susan. “When I came to Summit, I got to reinvent myself a little bit because Summit brings out the best in everybody. You get to share with children what you really love and have developed a real interest in.” Of course one area where Susan has many interests, is in traveling. Luckily, Summit offered a study program that involved some funding for traveling. The teachers would study various books, after which, they would then travel to the place based upon the book. “We were educators wanting to learn more,” Susan remarks about her own perpective.
Along with other faculty members, Susan traveled to New York City where architects led them on architectural tours, and the faculty stayed at Saint Thomas Choir School. She and other teachers went to Rome, England, and stayed at Hacienda Cusin in San Pablo Del Lago, Ecuador. One of her favorite places was Ireland. “Sometimes, we didn’t even do what all the tourists would do. In Rome, we walked all over the city to look around,” remembers Susan with a smile. “I was very surprised how much I loved Ireland. It was beautiful and green. I love the whimsical side of people who still believe in leprechauns and fairies, even some who are very educated.” All of Susan’s experiences and trips are brought home and into the classroom. She has even incorporated her melting pot of knowledge into the summer programs taught for eighteen years. In fact, Susan helped create a summer program known as Music, Mind, and Reading — incorporating reading and music. While Susan loves new experiences and traveling, she always returns to her five and six-year-old students. “I like this age. I think they are such interesting beings. You can have fun with them. They are all just a little bit different, but just a little bit the same,” Susan imparts. “When you come here to work, you feel better. You are around children, nice teachers, and nice parents. It’s a child’s world.”
All for the children — the knowledge she brings from her travels, her interest in new and innovating ways, and her contagious spirit. She might just be the kindergartner’s version of the inspirational teacher, Socrates, who challenged his students to learn by asking many questions that made them think of answers with deep thought and dimension. In fact, it seems entirely possible that her students have learned the Latin phrase, ‘Carpe Diem!’
“Your Neighbor” is a feature by Jill Osborn. If you have a neighbor everybody should know, reach Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow her blog on parenting at MuchAdoAboutMothering.com/