Recognition. It is the very stuff of life. Babies cry for it. Brave men die for it. And on June 12th, 42 Busy Bee Preschool students got what was probably their first major taste of recognition from outside their own family.
Decked out in caps and gowns, they marched down the aisle to the familiar sound of “Pomp and Circumstance.” The ceremony was held at The Way Church on Hanson Lane to mark their graduation—from Busy Bee Preschool and Day Care Center.
Now, if truth be told, there are some people who quietly snicker at such ceremonies for 4- and 5-year-olds.
Snicker if you must, but a word of caution. Don’t do it in front of Harry and Sondra Butler, who have devoted 30 years of their life to young people since opening the school in 1981, or anywhere near their daughter, Catheren Murray, who is the school’s director and has taught there for 29 years.
The fact is that the Butlers and Catheren see the graduation as an integral part of their effort to teach children as soon as possible that life involves a cycle of effort, reward and recognition.
“I tell the young students,” said Catheren, “that this is just the first of many graduation ceremonies they will attend, probably including one after kindergarten, one after sixth grade, another after high school and when they complete their college studies. And we don’t say IF you go to college, we say WHEN you successfully graduate from college.”
“From the very beginning, 30 years ago,” Sondra Butler said, “developing a good self-image, based on quality values was a major reason for the school to exist. I was going to Palomar College and was directed toward child development.
Sondra co-founded Arts Unlimited in 1969. Included in Arts Unlimited’s offerings in those early years were ballet, gymnastics, tap, guitar and baton twirling.
As Sondra’s children started having children—her grandchildren—she found a need for programs dedicated to children’s activities and education. So in 1981, she opened Busy Bee Preschool and Day Care Center.
Catheren said that her own children and Sondra’s other grandchildren and great-grandchildren have benefited from the programs Sondra has started in Ramona.
“By the time Sondra’s grandson, Chase, was 2 years old, he knew all the letters of the alphabet and how to use many of them. But Grama didn’t use flash cards or anything like that. She made it into a game. Kids love games. She emptied all the letters of a Scrabble game on the floor, and they would agree on a word they were going to spell,” said Catheren.
If the word was “house,” Sondra would ask for an h. If he pointed to a c, she would say “No. That’s a c,” so even the mistakes could be a learning experience.
“Our reading program was given to us by a kindergarten teacher who was a good friend of mine,” said Sondra. “It has proven itself over the years to be successful.”
“We start with the letters a and t, which gives us a word—‘at’—that we can build on,” said Catheren.
“From there we can go on to cat, bat, mat, rat, sat, etc., and the students begin to understand the meaning of words,” Catheren explained. “We then move on to h and e which, along with t gives us ‘the’. It is then easy to see how Busy Bee graduates arrive at kindergarten understanding sentences such as ‘The fat cat sat on the mat’. It’s a short step to ‘The cat sat in the tan van,’ and much more.”
These abilities are the early building blocks of a strong self-image, added Sondra. “It’s a mixture of phonics and sight reading. Some words can be learned and spelled phonetically, but others just cannot be. We need the mixture of skills,” she said.
The school, at 1137 Keyes Road, is a charming building over 100 years old and surroundings have variously been a turkey ranch, dairy ranch, chicken ranch, horse ranch and now a “kid’s ranch,” as the Butlers and Catheren see it.
It’s on five acres with plenty of room to run around. Busy Bee has a very large playground with a bicycle track where everyone goes one way around, and a bike storage shed that is built like a gas station with pumps, where students can pretend to fill their bikes with gas. Also on the playground are swings, castles, playhouses, scooters, mini basketball courts and more.
“Busy Bee still has the yellow floral wallpaper that it had when I lived there as a little girl, and the whole place has the feeling of going over to grandpa and grandma’s house,” said Catheren.
The campus has a cozy feeling that lends itself to a sheltering and nurturing atmosphere and everyone there is dedicated to each student feeling safe, secure and loved.
“Not only must each student feel safe, secure and loved, but each parent must feel comfortable in their preschool choice,” said Sondra.
“We urge parents to go check out two or three schools in addition to ours before they make their mind up,” said Sondra. “We are passionate about every child getting the benefits of a preschool education but we recognize that people are different.”
Children learn in many different ways, said Catheren.
“Busy Bee’s belief is, if a child is not able to do a specific task, the student may be able to do the next one, which can open the mind to ways of doing the one that was difficult before,” said Sondra. “I believe in opening the mind to all the information. You can let the children try anything. There is no failure in our curriculum. Each student does each task the best they can and gets praise for their efforts.”
Busy Bee offers preschool from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and extended day services from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. with two-, three- and five-day programs in both categories.
The classes are broken down to one teacher and an aide for every 15 students. Each teacher is required to have Early Childhood Education (ECE) credentials and be CPR and first aid certified, and there must be at least one teacher on campus at all times. You can find Catheren behind her desk or in the classroom every day until 4 p.m. to answer any questions or discuss any concerns.
Each day starts with some free time for the students to mingle with their friends, and at 9 a.m. Circle Time begins with the letters and numbers and the reading word of the day, said Catheren. Among Circle Time activities, puppets are used to teach a letter. Corresponding sounds, songs and stories reinforce each letter.
There is a theme for each month, such as nutrition, health and safety, the rain forest, oceans, “themes that a generation or two ago may not have appeared in any prekindergarten or even kindergarten course,” said Catheren.
“Our students know about the rain forests and why it is important to keep them, they know that a sloth is camouflaged by moss that grows on the hair on his back,” said Catheren.
Busy Bee’s rain forest expert is Tammy Ronk, Catheren’s right-hand teacher. Tammy has taught at Busy Bee for 22 years.
“How many children can tell you that the sloth only goes into the forest once a week to poop?” asked Catheren. “They can tell you that it takes 10 minutes for a raindrop to hit the forest floor because the forest is so dense, and they know what dense means, too. I had one parent come in saying that her child had been talking about a bird-eating spider, and I was able to confirm the child’s comments.”
With all that running around in the forest, it is time for a nutritious snack, which Busy Bee provides and turns that into a learning experience, too.
Among other fun activities at Busy Bee are field trips to Albertsons, to the pumpkin patch at Mountain Valley Ranch, to Ramona Fire Station 80 and to Miss Jeanne’s Farm in Ramona. In addition, Busy Bee welcomes special guests such as firefighters, police officers, musicians and magicians.
“One thing we would like to stress,” said the Butlers and Catheren, “is that we welcome visits by parents or prospective parents at any time.”
“There is no need for an appointment or even to let us know you are coming,” said Catheren. “We are delighted for you to see us just as we are at any time of the day.
“One family was moving from out of state and the father called around different Ramona agencies and businesses looking for a preschool for his family. He got so many good recommendations for Busy Bee that he signed up over the phone and sent us a check in the mail. When this family’s children graduated from Busy Bee, they honored our preschool by presenting us with an American flag that had flown over the White House.”
“We don’t advertise a lot. I would say that a good 90 percent of our students come by word of mouth by other parents or people in the community,” added Sondra.
The teachers love to see former students come in as adults to enroll their children in Busy Bee.
“We also have graduates who have returned to us as teachers and aides, and we are very proud of that,” she said. “In addition, Busy Bee graduates have gone on to be high school valedictorians and salutatorians.”
Catheren and Tammy take the time each year to go through the graduate section of the newspaper and highlight the names of students who attended Busy Bee preschool.
“We don’t turn anyone away provided they can benefit from and fit into the program,” said Catheren. “We have had blind students, deaf students, students with cerebral palsy, and they have all benefited from Busy Bee.”
There is still space available in Busy Bee’s summer program. It’s not too late to get your child prepared for kindergarten. Reservations for fall have started. Because space is limited, Catheren suggests parents stop by and talk about summer and fall as soon as possible.
The summer program will end on Sept. 10th. The fall program will start on Sept. 13th.
To learn more and to see what the children are up to, visit Busy Bee at 1137 Keyes Road or call 760-789-0941.