Suzanne House is amazed at all that has changed in early childhood education since she began her teaching career more than 30 years ago.
"I did less in kindergarten teaching than I do now in preschool teaching," she said. "Kindergarten is now the new second grade."
House, founder of two Carroll County preschools, has announced she will retire at the end of July. She currently is the director and a teacher at Crossroads Christian Preschool, which is a part of Westminster United Methodist Church.
Her career started at a school in Baltimore County, but after six years she came to Carroll to teach at First Presbyterian Church of Westminster's Christian preschool and kindergarten.
After nine years in that position, she moved on to Faith Christian School, where she wrote curriculum and taught prekindergarten and kindergarten classes for six years. In 1997, she went to Grace Lutheran Church and founded Little Friends of Grace Christian Preschool.
"That was really my first baby that I started all by myself," she said.
The school started with just five students, but grew to 200 by the end of her 10th year there.
In 2005, her home church, Westminster United Methodist Church, decided to look into starting a preschool program. She was hired as that preschool's director in 2006.
"We've been going strong since then," House said.
She is proud that the preschool has a written curriculum that's based on the Maryland Model for School Readiness and is a certificate of approval program. Preschool is a period of time when possible developmental delays and special needs are discovered, so it's important to hire knowledgeable teachers, House said.
Teachers need to know how to talk to parents about such issues, how to go about getting a child tested and understand what children may be facing.
"If you don't have a well-degreed, well-educated teacher, then they really aren't going to realize and understand what's happening in the classroom," she said.
When starting the two preschools, her goal was to be inclusive of special needs students and start need-based scholarships.
"I just feel like it's important that all children and families be able to access quality early childhood education," House said.
Pam Galeone, of Sykesville, said her son attended the Crossroads Christian Preschool and her daughter currently attends the school. Her son has a learning and a language disorder.
"Suzanne basically opened her doors to my son when a lot of preschools and educators at the time didn't know what to do with my son," she said.
The school made special arrangements for him and helped him despite his language barrier, Galeone said.
"It really helped prepare him for kindergarten," she said.
House's help didn't stop after Galeone's son left the preschool. House has gone with Galeone to her son's elementary school Individual Education Plan meetings.
"She put us in contact with an educational advocate we're still using today," she said. "[House] basically said you don't have to just accept the services the county is giving you, you can request more."
Galeone said House has given the preschool her all and loved every child as if they were her own.
"As a mother, I'm grateful that's my child's first impression in a school environment."
Sandy Johnson, of Westminster, said three of her four children have attended Crossroads Christian Preschool. She describes House as a person who loves God and loves children.
"She's really good at capitalizing on their strengths and bringing out the best in them," she said.
Julie Lupro, an assistant teacher at Crossroads Christian Preschool, said she finds House to be a very open and caring mentor. She's a positive role model for children.
"We are going to miss her dearly," she said.
In retirement, House plans to help care for her 91-year-old mother and spend more time with her grandchildren.
"It's kind of exciting and sad all at the same time," she said.
She is confident that the preschool will continue to be a high-quality program even after she leaves. Even though she will remain an active member of the church, House said she will stay away from the school for a while to allow the new director to settle in.
"I can leave knowing this school will continue to nurture children for a long time to come," she said.
Some students keep in touch, but many of the children she has taught may not remember her as they get older. But House knows she has made a positive difference in their lives.
She feels blessed God gifted her with the talent to work with young children and help them grow to their full potential, House said.
"I can't think of anything else I would have rather done," she said. "If I had to start all over again, I'd do the same thing."