SUNNYSIDE — A wheelbarrow full of youthful family traditions can be a lot like learning — confidently beginning with an influential push in the right direction.
During the past 20 years or so, there has been one model of learning equipment present in Mary Schlenker’s classroom at Sunnyside United Methodist Church, designed to include kids of every generation with a solid start down their educational pathway – a wheelbarrow.
The accomplished educator conveyed, “Knowing at this point in time we have no money coming into the program, I made a wish list of things that we were in need of.” She has been preparing with the mindset of resuming her hands-on teaching curriculum for the upcoming school year with help from parents and families.
Coinciding with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s announcement to reopen schools in the fall on June 11, Schlenker was already at Ace Hardware, 615 Yakima Valley Highway. She had driven her sport utility vehicle over to pick up a brand new and recently assembled Steel Contractor Wheelbarrow 6 model, donated by Assistant Manager Sherri Boob.
“Last year, I had 10 kids who were in the program that their parents were my students,” Schlenker proudly acknowledged.
The preschool, located at 906 E. Edison Ave., is made up of a total of 68 children in four classes: two with 18, four and five-year-olds and two with 16, three and four-year-old kids. Registration hasn’t begun, however, there’s a student waiting list and parents can contact 509‑839-4337 for additional information.
When asked the question of how she felt about former students and now parents with kids of their own in the program, she reminisced in a rejuvenating tone, “It makes me feel like I did my job. Because I truly treat those kids like they’re my own. I will always have their back. Like if they needed something, I’ll be there.”
Even though the weather was overcast with scattered showers on Thursday, this was going to be one of those family moments that would be fondly remembered by a new generation of school children.
“My mom took the old one and made it garden art,” Boob amusingly described while remembering how that wheelbarrow was there at the preschool when her daughter Marissa was a student. “Keep it all rolling and keep it all moving. I’m always happy and don’t let nothing get me down,” the supportive grandmother declared.
The cheerful manager had her four-year-old grandson Gary Boyle III in the heavy-duty tray, who will be a returning pre-kindergarten student, just like his mother Marissa was about two decades ago, while her husband Gary were present for the memorable occasion.
“This community is what has made that preschool. Our program would not be where it’s at if it wasn’t for this community. Because they’ve always stepped up any time, we needed something. I can’t thank this town enough,” Schlenker gratefully expressed.
Marissa plans to remind her son every so often or when the opportunity presents itself about being the first student to ride in the preschool’s durable wheelbarrow, which was donated by his grandma as she pushed him through the parking lot on the way to Miss Mary’s vehicle.
Gary confirmed he enjoyed his first wheelbarrow ride and likes the train at school. The industrious boy was asked about what he wants to be when he grows up and he immediately replied, “A mechanic,” and to fix big trucks like his dad.
“I had such a good time with Miss Mary and all the other generations have been going to her,” Marissa exclaimed. “And I received a great education from her, so I want him to have a great start to his education and you can’t get anyone better than Miss Mary.”
Schlenker recalled the time when one of her professors in college told the class, “this is why you become teachers; to become a family” and taking a hands-on approach for guiding students onward in their educational pursuits.
“It’s a blessing that God gave me a little bit of talent to help children gain some confidence with the goal for a child to like themselves and then be successful at whatever they do.”