Click to see this week's specials at the North Bend Mini Mart!

The North Bend Eagle

Martha Settles at the B4 Preschool
Martha Settles poses in the B4 Preschool with some of the other faculty.

Settles says B4 Preschool will close in '12

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 5/4/11

Martha Settles is an icon in North Bend.

Everyone knows her. People 36 and younger probably had her for a preschool teacher. Those older had children attend her preschool. The oldest generation know her from performances B4 Preschool has put on at the Senior Center and Birchwood Manor.

But the icon sees an end to her time. She sees it with excitement and anxiety. At the end of the 2012 school year, Settles will be 65 and will close the door on B4 Preschool.

The anxiety comes when thinking about the future of 4-year olds in the North Bend area without her school available.

“Preschool is a necessity anymore,” Settles said. “I teach what I think they should know. I’m doing what they used to do in kindergarten. Now they expect more. They learn to read in kindergarten.”

No one has stepped forward with plans to open a private preschool in the area. Settles serves on a committee organized by North Bend Elementary School to investigate the possibility of offering a preschool as part of the public school system.

Settles opened her preschool in 1979. With a degree in elementary education, she taught four years before starting her family. She and her husband, Gordon, thought a preschool would be something to keep her busy. She put an ad in the paper and had 24 children sign up for the fall of 1979.

Before she opened the school, Settles went to numerous school auctions and garage sales to get tables, chairs, shelves and other materials and toys she needed. She visited preschools and talked to kindergarten teachers to get ideas.

She started making plans in January to open up in the fall. In a Dec. 1979 North Bend Eagle article, she said the most important thing children learn in preschool is how to get along with others. Socialization is still a big part of preschool, but the children also learn number recognition, letter recognition, sounds, shapes, nursery rhymes, some science, some geography, some word recognition.

Last week, after practicing their phone numbers and addresses, the Tuesday afternoon class spent the last hour of the day learning more about the letter V. With stories, songs, art and puppets, Settles reinforced the sound V makes and words that start with V.

“Repetition, repetition,” Settles said. “That is how they learn.”

Settles can see the difference in children whose parents work with them at home. She said without preschool, parents would have to spend a lot of time with a child to get them ready for kindergarten.

“Everything that’s important is learned in preschool,” Settles said. “Four-year-olds are like sponges. Everything you say they remember. They learn how to get along, say please and thank you.”

Over the years Settles has had six to ten special needs children contracted to attend preschool by North Bend Central. One came with a para-professional, which Settles said was really nice, but not in her budget.

In 1979, it cost $17 a month to send a child to B4 Preschool. In the 32 years since then, that fee has increased to $45 per month.

“I’ve kept my price down so that people would send their children,” Settles said. “I want all 4-year-olds to have the advantage of preschool.”

When she first started, there was no licensing of preschool teachers, but the building was inspected. Private preschools are under the Department of Health and Human Services. If a preschool is part of the public school system, it is regulated by the Department of Education and requires a licensed teacher, its own fenced-in playground, toys, shelving and curriculum.

“It’s expensive to start a preschool,” North Bend Elementary principal Caryn Ziettlow said, “but in the long run it will be to the students’ advantage. Those preschool skills are going to make it so much easier to learn later on.”

Settles remains concerned for the upcoming 4-year-olds in the community.

“The (school) board has not said, ‘We are going to have a preschool in our school,’” Settles said. “It’s going to take a good year to get one going - they should be starting now. There is no money in next year’s (NBCPS) budget for preschool. If they wait and budget in June 2012, they’re not going to have enough time. For one thing, they won’t be able to hire a teachers. All the good ones will all be gone. I really think the teacher needs to be in on the planning.”

There is a grant available to help with preschool startup, but it will not cover all the expenses. The preschool committee is looking at other sources for paying for playground equipment and other required items. Settles said one school system applied for the grant in June before they wanted to open a preschool that fall, but it was turned down.

“If it’s June and we don’t get it, what’s going to happen?” Settles said. “Are we not going to have a preschool? That’s what I worry about. Are we going to have a year of nothing? You have to start taking applications for preschool in January. With the beginning of a new era, you should start taking applications in October, or as soon as school starts.”

Many details need to be worked out for a start-up preschool, Settles said. For example, before applications are sent out, someone must design the application. Settles said one summer isn’t enough time to plan a new preschool.

“I don’t want there to be a lapse between me and them,” Settles said. “That’s my biggest worry. What if they aren’t ready? What am I going to say? OK, I’ll do it one more year, and then the next year do the same thing? I have to have a time to say, this is it.”

Among her career highlights have been seeing shy little ones become successful adults. She remembers little ones who had a difficult time coming down the steps to preschool, and finally after three months made it down by themselves and acted like they belong there and are ready to play. She recalled a 4-year-old being able to say his name in front of others for the first time or step up to the microphone at the program and say their lines.

“Those are the ones I remember,” Settles said.

Settles has come full circle, now teaching children of former students. The parents talk about their memories of preschool. They always remember the program presented around Valentines Day and remember the Mother Goose character they portrayed. Going upstairs to bake cookies at Christmas time and the farm trip is always a memory brought up. And, yes, Settles still does the Mother Goose program and bakes cookies at Christmas.

Settles still does some things she did the first year she taught with a few changes. Instead of making the hot pads the children give their mothers for Mother’s Day, she now buys them. She has always found new things to add. Last week they were painting with vegetables, which begins with the letter V, for the first time. Settles spread yellow paint over an ear of corn, green paint on green beans, orange on carrots and her preschoolers pressed them on paper. The project was not complete until Settles had given them stickers with the words of each vegetable to place next to the picture, putting that written word in front of them for recognition.

Settles teaches by herself, except for the help of four stuffed B4 Bears (one for each class) added to the faculty in 1990. They help hold letters and numbers and go home with the students the first part of the year, with the parents writing down what the bear did while at the child’s home. She makes a book about the bear’s visits.

“He teaches responsibility,” Settles said, “and he always comes to graduation as faculty.”

People have asked Settles not only what is going to become of the preschool program, but what is going to happen to the physical preschool, which has been housed in the Settles’ basement since 1986.

The short answer is that B4 Preschool will become part of her house again. Her grandchildren, great-nieces and nephews love to play in the preschool area when they come to visit.

Settles’ four children, one a medical doctor, two others with doctorate degrees and her youngest (who went to preschool from the age of three through kindergarten half days) now in medical school, have encouraged her to retire. Though she’s worried about what she’ll do with her time once she doesn’t have preschool, she is sure she will be able to fill her days.

“It was really hard for me to make the decision to quit,” Settles said. “There are still times I think, ‘What am I going to do?’

But it’s time.”

<<Back to the front page