Walker retires from St. Stephen’s Preschool

Published 1:42 pm Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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For 29 years, little astronauts and skydivers have been welcomed to St. Stephen’s Preschool by the smiling face of Stephanie Walker.

Last week, Walker made her last greeting to the students as she enters into the world of the retired leaving her 21-year position as director of the preschool.

“My life has been blessed by each and every child at St. Stephen’s,” Walker said. “But change is good. I am looking forward to having the freedom to make new choices.”

The choices for Walker have always been plentiful, as she has made an impact in several groups and organizations, becoming a well-known and respected part of the Brewton community.

“People keep asking what I am going to do,” Walker said. “I still have responsibilities for the Greater Brewton Foundation, the Christmas Project, Arts Council, and some things at church.  I also have a long list of volunteer activities that I’m considering but never had the time for previously. I work best when I love what I’m doing, so that’s what I’m trying to figure out. “

Walker said her personal life might be most benefited from the changes coming with retirements.

“I know I will be more consistent with my exercise,” Walker said. “I need this body to last me a long time.  I will try to spend more time with my husband, my mother, daughter and granddaughter..  I am fortunate to have this opportunity.”

Walker said her time at the preschool has been possible due to the support from the leaders and congregation members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church as well as the community itself.

“Having a wonderful preschool takes some outside support and funding,” Walker said. “ St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church covers a large portion of the operating expenses of the preschool and that’s why we’re able to keep tuition at an amount parents can afford. The church members have also been very supportive of the scholarship fund that St. Stephen’s Preschool has. This financial reserve made it possible for me to reach out to families in need who might not have been able to afford the preschool experience for their child.”

Those experiences have varied over the years but typically consist of in-class learning as well as adventures outside the classroom, Walker said.

“This year we have been unable to have field trips (that I believe are an integral part of learning),” Walker said. “But fortunately, we had wonderful visitors like Kelly Rexroat of 4H and Adam Gassner from Gassner Construction who came to share their knowledge with the children.  In previous years, however, we have been fortunate that local businesses like Marvin’s and Swift Supply, the airport, the post office, the hospital, Southern Pine, the YMCA, Peach farm, the band rooms of T.R. Miller and W. S. Neal, the Fire Station and the library worked with us to broaden the horizons of our three and four year olds. That is a big undertaking; for adults not used to teaching young children, preschoolers can be intimidating.”

Walker said her love of educating young children came naturally to her, even if her mother suggested a different career path.

“When my mom, a teacher, sent us to college, she told us we could major in anything but education, Walker said. “My sister and I have always loved children but we were obedient. I majored in Political Science and Business Management; she majored in Marketing. We both ended up working with students in some form. I was fortunate that my friends encouraged me to teach music at preschool and I was hooked.”

That hook was all it took for Walker to become engaged by the inquisitive minds of young children. The opportunity to be involved in preschool education at St. Stephen’s was a natural undertaking, she said.

“Amazingly, I loved teaching myself new crazy songs to sing with preschoolers,” Walker said. “After several years of watching turnover at the Director’s position, I decided I would apply for the job. They didn’t hire me the first time I applied. None of us is guaranteed a smooth path in life. After the person they hired, quit in a year, my friends encouraged me to apply again. That was 21 years ago and every day since then has been a great learning experience for me.”

Walker said there comes a time when “you know it’s time” and she is moving into that phase of life.

“I am going to miss answering crazy questions, building elaborate block structures and singing silly songs,” Walker said. “I will miss meeting new families every year that I never would have had the opportunity to know otherwise. I will miss filling in for the teachers when they need a sub. Children are amazing human beings and everything they do is fascinating to me.”

Though retirement seems like the next logical step for Walker, she said hasn’t made the decision easily or quickly.

“God and I have been in discussion for several months now about what that will look like,” Walker said. “I know it will be another great adventure.”