It's true that Harriet Chaitovitz doesn't stand in a classroom and teach anymore. But one rabbi insists she's still "the classiest woman in Howard County."
So on Wednesday, more than 100 parents and children gathered at Beth Shalom Congregation's synagogue on Guilford Road to honor Mrs. Chaitovitz, who this year retired as a nursery school and day care teacher at Bet Yeladim -- a religious school that rents space at the synagogue.
Mrs. Chaitovitz received a plaque for helping to establish the county's first Jewish preschool 20 years ago.
And to honor her, children dedicated Bet Yeladim playground's 260-foot pathway by drawing an outline of their feet with chalk.
"She always puts people first," said Beth Shalom Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen.
Mrs. Chaitovitz, 61, told those gathered: "I am deeply touched and honored to have this path named after me. It is a very humbling experience.
"I hope that this path will be a symbol of the journey Beth Shalom and Bet Yeladim will take together to further the Jewish education of our children," she said.
Besides helping to establish the school, Mrs. Chaitovitz also is a founding member of Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation, and a former president of the Sisterhood of Beth Shalom, the congregation's women's group.
Members of the Sisterhood of Beth Shalom honored Mrs. Chaitovitz as part of a day dedicated to "Steppin' in the Path of Jewish Learning."
Parents and Jewish leaders in the community call her a pioneer and credit her with helping to lead the way in the education of Jewish children in Howard.
In September 1975, the nursery school opened with only two teachers and 21 students to serve the county's Jewish population, which has grown to about 10,000.
The day care center opened in 1987 at Stonehouse in the Long Reach Village Center and the kindergarten program began in 1994 at the Meeting House in Columbia's Oakland Mills village; both programs now are at the Meeting House.
This summer, the nursery school program moved from the Jeffers Hill and Phelps Luck neighborhood centers to the synagogue -- the first synagogue to be built in Howard.
All together, Bet Yeladim's educational programs have about 48 staffers and 260 children.
"Miss Harriet," as she has been known at the school, officially retired in June.
"It's just a natural love of children and a deep commitment to further Jewish education," Mrs. Chaitovitz said of her devotion.
However, her work may not be over. Teachers plan to ask her to substitute whenever she can.
"I can honestly say, we all miss her," said Jean Grinspoon, the school's executive director. "She will always be a part of Bet Yeladim."
Too young to understand the dedication ceremony, the school's students ran around and rode tricycles over the dedicated pathway. Mrs. Chaitovitz even took time to tie the laces of one youngster's tennis shoe.
"Harriet is a great link for us to the past and to the future," said Claudia Andorsky, a spokeswoman for the school.