“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Mt 19:13 – 15)
Amanda Athey has been the Preschool & BASE Director since June of 2014. Unsurprisingly, her greatest joy in that position is not the voluminous paperwork she needs to maintain for the Ohio Department of Education, but “just seeing the little ones.” At the preschool, Amanda is building the foundation of those little ones, both preparing them for future academics and beginning their faith formation. She views them as the preschool’s “legacy” and loves walking down the hallways of the elementary school and peeking in the doorways to see what her previous students are up to.
As she describes it, there is something extremely special about having the “shyest kid at the preschool” and years later see them standing in front of a classroom confidently giving a presentation.
During her tenure, the preschool has continued to grow and flourish. As director, she inherited an Early Childhood Education grant from the state. Essentially Ohio has realized that it lacks sufficient “seats” in preschool for the number of prospective students, and Our Lady’s preschool was given funds to provide more of those seats. Amanda then participated in an accreditation process, Step Up to Quality Ohio, as part of that grant. The accreditation provides a one-to-five-star rating based on the documentation and processes of preschools, with the goal being to exceed the base licensing standards set by the state. Our preschool underwent extensive auditing by the state and, in 2017, was awarded the maximum five-star accreditation.
During the preschool’s growth, Amanda describes the process as “scary and stressful and we’ve never done that before.” Despite those fears, Amanda knows this growth is an amazing opportunity and was excited at the opportunity. With that in mind, it was a leap of faith with the entire staff doing their best and then trusting in God for everything else. They set goals, worked as a staff, and relied on each other as a team. Their results speak for themselves.
Amanda remains “humbled by her children,” both at the preschool and in her own family. They are “so pure and honest and believe with their whole heart.” However, one of her challenges is reminding herself that they lack nuance at such a young age, and adults “need to be careful with their words.” She recalls a recent instance with her own three-year-old when they were preparing a prayer space for him. Amanda was planning on having a deep spiritual conversation with him as they arranged the space. Then he left the room, returned with some Hulk toys, and added them to the prayer space, “because.” I am reminded of when my own twins built a representation of Jesus’ tomb out of Legos, added an actual stone from Henry’s rock collection to seal the tomb, and then added a Lego dinosaur. Because.
Perhaps Amanda’s greatest challenge is simply needing more hours in the day. She very much wants to “put my whole heart” into everything she does, but it’s simply not possible to pour one hundred percent into the preschool and then one hundred percent into her own family. She laughs that “God probably doesn’t want to make two of me.” Instead, she has learned to put more trust and responsibility onto her staff and “rely on my team.”
Beyond her little ones, Amanda views the preschool as being “the welcoming committee, the welcome back, the welcome home” for their parents. Some, perhaps many, of those parents have been away from the church or only been loosely associated with their Catholic faith. I can attest to that having been born and raised Catholic, drifted away from our shared faith during college, and only truly began a return when my twins were enrolled at the preschool. Amanda wants to be a resource to those parents and remove any roadblocks to their return to the church. She further explains, “Okay, you need to register at the parish? Here’s where the office is and who you need to ask for.” “Questions about tuition, here’s who you need to email.” “You need some sacraments yourself, talk to this person, they’ll be really happy to help you.”
Between giving one hundred percent of her heart to the preschool and one hundred percent of her heart to her own family, Amanda has precious little free time. When she was younger, that free time was consumed with a passion for sports, but recently she has discovered an equal passion for genealogy. Amanda and her mother have traveled to Virginia where her family first settled in the United States and were able to drive the actual roads her ancestors traveled on. She discovered that Mary Polly, her fourth great-grandmother, was a slave and has been fascinated at unraveling that portion of her family history. Given the proliferation of home DNA tests Amanda is hopeful she will be able to delve even further into her family’s story.
Given her magic wand or friendly genie with a single wish (one of my favorite questions and apparently one of the most disliked) Amanda wants everyone to know how much Jesus loves them. When I spoke with her, Amanda’s faith was clearly deeply personal and extremely vibrant. I am not surprised she wants to share that faith with everyone around her. Much like Julie Freeman she then snuck in a second wish for more space in the parish campus. With COVID-19 distancing, the preschool was forced to trade in its Atrium for class space and Amanda wishes there was simply enough room to accommodate both robust academics and faith formation.
At the end of our conversation, something Amanda said deeply struck me. I have arguably eclectic tastes in music; everything from alternative to punk to traditional and modern Irish folk tunes. One of those genres is absolutely 1990s alternative from when I was in college. Erik Frances Schrody, also known by his stage name Everlast, had a song in 1998 titled “What It’s Like.” In that song he sings:
We’ve all seen the man at the liquor store beggin’ for your change
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
He asks a man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
“Well, get a job, you $#@&*% slob[‘s]” all he replied
Well, God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues
Amanda tells me she always looks those men “beggin” and the meme-inducing people at Wal-Mart and everyone else in the eyes and smiles at them. Acknowledging them as fellow human beings.
“… for God made man in his own image.” (Gen 9:6)
I would like to think the purity and honesty of her little ones has influenced Amanda. Or perhaps it is the other way around.
–By Eric Brooks