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The Suburbanite
  • King's view: Kindergarten teacher shaped students’ futures

  • It stated in her obituary that, in 32 years teaching kindergarten and first grade in the Manchester school system, she introduced more than 2,400 children to school life.



    But that was selling her way short. What wasn’t mentioned was how many of those children reached their potential in school because of Ethel Stokes.

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  • It stated in her obituary that, in 32 years teaching kindergarten and first grade in the Manchester school system, she introduced more than 2,400 children to school life.
    But that was selling her way short. What wasn’t mentioned was how many of those children reached their potential in school because of Ethel Stokes.
    Who knows if there’s any strong data to support it, but the opinion here — because I’ve seen it happen countless times — is that kindergarten is the most important grade in any school system. That is, if children have a positive experience in kindergarten and head into first grade on a roll, then they are much more likely to continue that momentum all the way through their senior year in high school.
    And likewise, if children fall into a hole in kindergarten, then they stand a better chance of spending the rest of their time in school trying to climb out. But they are never quite able to do so. They don’t catch up. They fall short.
    Mrs. Stokes, or Mrs. White, as she was known for years, refused to let her students fall through the cracks. She refused to let them be anything other than the best they could be.
    She did so through her unwavering love, kindness, caring, compassion, nurturing and patience. She did so because she knew that was what she had been hired to do.
    Indeed, she treated all her students as if they were her own.
    And that’s not an easy thing to do. It can wear you out — throwing yourself into the lives of all those children for all those years — but she never seemed to grow tired of it. Rather, she thrived on it. She approached each year — each student — as if it, he or she were her first.
    I thought about all that the other day when I heard that Mrs. Stokes had died at 88 years young. It completely ruined my day – a lot of days, in fact.
    It was like a part of me had died, too, and maybe it did.
    For if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Stokes, I know I would not have bounded into first grade brimming with so much new-found confidence, and with a zeal to learn and grow. Everything good I did from that point on in my schooling, I owe to her and the foundation she built for me and all the other little rugrats she had in that noon kindergarten class 50-plus years ago.
    Manchester was a much bigger school system then than it is now. With the post-World War II baby boom really booming and people flocking from the cities to the suburbs to build homes and raise their families, three sessions of kindergarten were necessary to serve the 250 incoming students in 1961.
    Page 2 of 3 - Big deal. That didn’t interest me one bit. I was scared to death of leaving the security of home and my loving parents. I didn’t want to go to school and into the unfamiliar, great unknown, where maybe something, or someone, bad was lurking.
    As such, that first day of school was a nightmare. Despite my begging and screaming and crying, plus the fact I purposely missed the bus, my dad insisted I had to go. So he drove me to school, dragged me into the building, found the right room, plopped me down, feet first, onto the floor and, with a wink and a nod from a friendly-looking woman standing on the other side of the room, slammed the door behind me. I was trapped.
    That friendly-looking woman was Mrs. Stokes. By the end of that two-hour first day, she had me loving school. I can remember getting off the bus, running up to my dad and telling him what a great day I had ended up having.
    It was all because of Mrs. Stokes. She was nice, just like my mom, only she was my teacher. Looking back now, I realize she was holding my educational future in the palm of her hand that day, and she cradled it. I never dreaded school again.
    My story is not unique. Instead, it is the norm for anyone who had Mrs. Stokes as a teacher.
    Years — actually, decades — later, I was informed that Mrs. Stokes lived about 200 yards from where I was standing at that moment. I couldn’t believe it. She was well into her teaching career by the time I came along, so I figured she was gone.
    Far from it, in fact. She was alive and well, and, though having been retired for well over 25 years, she looked not that much different than when she had taught me. Incredible.
    She resided in the same home as when she was teaching, less than a quarter-mile from the school. She said she used to walk to work.
    I knocked on the door and, told her that even though I knew she didn’t remember me, I felt compelled to introduce myself anyway.
    “Yes, I remember you,” she said without hesitation. To prove it, she then told me all about myself as a kindergartner.
    God bless her, she had obviously cataloged information about every student she had ever had and, whenever she ran across a familiar face, pulled that bio into the front part of her brain like a computer.
    What an unbelievable lady.
    I regret I didn’t use the opportunity to tell her how eternally grateful I was for what she had done for me.
    But being as smart as she was, I’m sure she knew.
    Page 3 of 3 - She probably heard it a lot.