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Pre-K teachers will take time to recoup from energetic classroom

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Jacqueline Chao
Pre-K students raise their hands to tell teacher Donna Manning their favorite parts of their field trip to the farmers market and the Central Library.

After a combined 59 years at Country Day, pre-K teachers Barbara Fackenthall and Donna Manning will say goodbye to their very last class on June 5.

Fackenthall started at the school in 1979, although she did not begin as a teacher.

“I came as the all-school receptionist,” Fackenthall said. “I had been teaching pre-K, but I just needed a break.”

After eight years as a receptionist, Fackenthall was approached by new headmaster Doug Crone to restart the pre-K program, as the half-day pre-K program was closed in 1979.

“When I came back from parenting leave in 1987 (Heidi Tash-Ngo, ’00, was born in 1982), there was a new headmaster who wanted to re-open the pre-K,” Fackenthall said.

“He asked me to teach, and I said yes.”

And Fackenthall has been teaching pre-K ever since, inspiring  and shaping the minds of hundreds of 4- and 5-year-olds over the past 31 years. 

Fackenthall said she loves teaching the youngest kids as everything is always so new for them.

“Each student brings their own curiosity and wonder to class each day, and that’s the magic for me,” she said.

And the hardest part about teaching pre-K is definitely “crowd control,” according to Fackenthall.

But despite sometimes struggling to control rambunctious children, Fackenthall said she has loved providing support for the families. 

“I love being able to help parents just relax and go with it,” she said.

“So even when things aren’t looking that rosy, I love being able to inspire the parents and to just let them know, in the big picture, it’s all going to work out well.”

She said she’ll also miss her fellow faculty members. 

“The teachers here are just so full of talent and knowledge and good spirit,” Fackenthall added.

“So I am definitely going to miss that camaraderie.”

Fackenthall said that one of her most memorable moments is the annual Pitchy Patchy parade.

“After being inspired by the story of the character (Pitchy Patchy – originally a Jamaican “Jankunu” festival figure), I started the parade with paper-bag vests and paper strips,” she said.

“But it has grown into an exploration of culture and cultural events, and I hope that the spirit of Pitchy Patchy will live on.”

In her retirement, Fackenthall plans to take time to decompress from the fast-paced world of pre-kindergarten. 

“I really want to reflect on my life and focus on self-care in the first couple of months of my retirement,” Fackenthall said.

“I don’t really have any major plans. I just want to relax, give back and spend time with people that have been really good to me over the years.

“But maybe in six months to a year, I’ll create that ‘retirement bucket list’ that everyone has.”

One lunch date between Fackenthall and Manning, who had been teaching public elementary school for 10 years, was all it took to bring Manning to Country Day.

“When I had my child, I became interested in younger kids, and I had a (distant family) connection with Barbara,” Manning said.

“We met for lunch one day, and she said she was looking for a pre-K teacher to work with her!”

For the past 19 years, Fackenthall and Manning have been side by side in the classroom, inseparable, except for one year when Manning taught physical education.

Like Fackenthall, Manning said she will miss the camaraderie.

“I’ve loved working with the kids, and I’ve loved working with the parents,” she said.

“It’s that closeness with the families that I have enjoyed the most.”

Manning said she has also enjoyed learning how children think and feel.

“When kids start to break down and cry, it’s really just learning to listen to them and understand what they’re trying to tell you that is important,” she said.

Over the years, Manning said she has loved simply dancing with kids and teaching them P.E.

She added that she will miss all the quirky and funny moments that happen in the classroom.

“The kids are really, really funny,” she said. 

“Working with Barbara and being able to share those funny moments with her has just been amazing.”

However, for Manning, teaching pre-K has not always been easy.

“It is physically exhausting,” Manning said.

“You are on your feet 24/7, and you have very few breaks because the kids need to be supervised all the time by three teachers.”

In her retirement, Manning said she will spend several months working out and getting stronger, focusing on self-care, like Fackenthall.

“I broke my kneecap at this time last year, and I haven’t really had the time to take care of it and do my rehab like I should have,” Manning said.

Manning said she also plans on spending time with Fackenthall in her retirement.

“Even though we spend every day together, we rarely have time to just chat!” Manning said.

Originally published in the June 6 edition of the Octagon.

– Jack Christian

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