Longtime Preschool Educator Retires, Closes Sandwich Schoolhouse
By: Mary Stanley, June 7, 2013
Next Wednesday, a group of 5-year-old children will celebrate their graduation at the Sandwich Schoolhouse Preschool on Route 6A in Sandwich.
As part of that celebration, they will perform a play called “The Castle.” The play is an annual tradition at the school. Some of the youngsters will perform as knights, complete with plastic armor. Others will portray a king, a queen and princesses. The children have been working to memorize their lines for weeks and weeks. There will be action, music, drama, and maybe even a few laughs. As always, the parents and grandparents in the audience will beam with delight at the actors, taking photos and video.
And just as it has for the past many years, the show will end with a standing ovation for the young actors.
Wednesday’s performance will be a bittersweet event for Jeanne N. Hamilton, owner, operator and director of the Sandwich Schoolhouse Preschool. It is her grand finale, of sorts. Ms. Hamilton, after 27 years of nurturing the minds of more than a thousand youngsters, is retiring and closing the school.
“I know that we have given our best to the children. What a treasure this has been,” Ms. Hamilton said of her years as a preschool teacher in town. “I have been very privileged to work in such a wonderful community. I’m really a lucky lady to have been so blessed.”
Kathleen A. Lima, who taught at the school for six years and even sent her own two daughters there, recalled Ms. Hamilton’s natural instinct for teaching this young age group.
“For her, this was not just a job—it was a love and a passion. She was just so intuitive and knew what the kids needed. She was excellent to work with and made me a better teacher,” Ms. Lima said.
While Ms. Hamilton has a serious side, she also found plenty of time to have fun in her work. This week, she celebrated her 67th birthday. And, as is the tradition at the school, the birthday boy or girl gets to wear a paper crown for the day. The children were delighted to see their teacher sporting the decorated crown.
Dawn M. Spunzo of Deerwood Drive in Sandwich, whose 5-year-old daughter Isabella C. Ghirardini will be the last of her children to graduate from the school, is grieving the loss of the schoolhouse and of “Ms. Jeanne,” as she is known by the children and parents.
“Jeanne taught me to see each child as an individual. She didn’t judge a child and always praised the good. There was never any negativity. She had rules but she also knew how to let them be children,” Ms. Spunzo said.
Ms. Lima agreed. “She gave them the opportunity to play and have fun; paint and build blocks, all while teaching them,” Ms. Lima said.
Ms. Spunzo’s oldest son, Alessandro D. Ghirardini, now 8 years old, also attended the school. “I took Alex to see three different preschools and he decided on Sandwich Schoolhouse the minute he walked in the door. There was just such a coziness to the school. It was a very nurturing environment and that made it an easy transition for a child who is leaving home for three hours a day,” Ms. Spunzo said.
Both Ms. Spunzo and Ms. Lima said that Ms. Hamilton provided not only a rich curriculum for the children, but she did so with love.
“She is very loving and has a great amount of kindness,” Ms. Spunzo said.
“The kids and families always came first. That was her top priority,” Ms. Lima said.
And Ms. Hamilton always sought ways to instill lessons of compassion in her work with the children.
“I’m really proud of the fundraising that we did; the way the families and I would pull together to organize an event to raise money for a family who was having a difficult time or experiencing a serious illness,” Ms. Hamilton said.
She was also proud of the curriculum that she offered to this age group. “We taught science and art and it was at a high caliber. We had some really great field trips,” she said.
Ms. Hamilton never allowed her lessons to become stale and taught each one as if she were teaching it and experiencing it for the very first time—even after 27 years.
“I always enjoyed showing the children something new for the first time, like when the milkweed opens up and the seeds fly off,” she said.
For many of the children at the preschool, their classmates were their first friends and for some of them, the friendships lasted a lifetime.
“I had some students that remained friends throughout the years and were even college roommates,” she said.
Despite teaching more than 1,000 children over the span of her career, Ms. Hamilton easily recalls the names of students she had 15 or 16 years ago. And, she said, she never forgets a face.
“When I see one of my students, who is now an adult, I look at them and I can still see them as 3 or 4 years old,” she said.
Ms. Hamilton is credited with opening the first preschool in Sandwich.
“We started at the Little Red School House on Route 130 in Forestdale in 1981 and we shared it with the Boy Scouts,” Ms. Hamilton recalled.
By 1982, she had moved the school over to the portable classrooms at the Henry T. Wing School and was operating under the auspices of the Sandwich Community School. But a few years later, when the Wing school needed those classrooms for its growing student population, Ms. Hamilton had to find another place to teach her preschoolers.
At the time, her husband, Howard W., was selling real estate part time and suggested purchasing a house on Route 6A and turning that into a preschool. With the familiar sign that hangs out in front, the Sandwich Schoolhouse Preschool soon became as integral a part of the Route 6A vista as the sight of Town Neck Beach and the boardwalk.
Through tears, Ms. Lima said that seeing the doors of the school close for the last time will be heartbreaking.
“The Sandwich Schoolhouse has been such a staple in this community. There was just such a comfort in knowing it was there,” she said.
Saturday, June 8, Ms. Hamilton is hosting an open house event, a reunion of sorts, and is inviting all of her former students to stop in for a final good-bye. The event will be held from 11 AM until 1 PM at the Oakcrest Cove lodge on Quaker Meetinghouse Road. For former students who are not able to attend the event, Ms. Hamilton invites them to send her an e-mail message, updating her on where they are and what they are doing. Those message can be sent to SandSchPreschool@aol.com.