Little Learners leader retiring after three decades

It’s like any other spring day at Little Learners Preschool. There are beans sprouting in the sunshine on the window sill. Caterpillars are well on their way to becoming butterflies. The ABCs are neatly hanging across one wall. The ants are busy moving dirt in their farm. Farm animals and toy tractors are scattered across the rug, while bright, colorful paintings of Easter eggs are drying on an easel.

And there are 11 eager-to-learn children listening intently to Joliene Kacer give them the morning’s instructions.

Bunny, as most parents and children know her, has been guiding Enumclaw 4- and 5-year-olds for three decades. She retires May 26.

“It probably won’t hit me until September,” Kacer said as she helped students brush rubber stamps with paint and put them to paper. “It’s been a good ride. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve never not wanted to go to work. Even though it may seem like you’re doing the same thing, it’s never the same reaction. I think any teacher would say that.

“I’m going to miss it. They’re always happy. It’s just a happy place to be.”

An early childhood education major, Kacer started a preschool in Lake Tapps not long after earning her degree. When she and husband John moved to Enumclaw, she stayed home with their three boys. But when they headed to school, so did Kacer, starting Little Learners on the Calvary Presbyterian Church campus in 1980.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Kacer said of her retirement. “The church wants to use this space for other things, so there won’t be a preschool at all, so I thought it was time.”

When she started the preschool, Kacer offered morning classes four days a week. At one point, she and longtime assistant Judy Amburgey, who retired a few years ago, were offering morning and afternoon sessions twice a week Monday through Thursday, teaching a total of 72 kids.

Now, offering only four morning sessions, 2 1/2 hours each, the past four years, the business has come full circle.

That’s close to 1,800 kids in those 30 years.

“One of the joys of my job has been having students of students in my classes,” Kacer said. “I love Enumclaw and that is one of the perks of living in a small town. We get to see the children grow up and have children of their own.

“The highlight of my career was having my grandchildren in class,” she said.

When Kacer started phones had cords, she laughs, now kids get in the car and turn on the DVD player. She has adapted. Late in the school year, the kids work on some keyboarding and computer skills.

“I think the kids are exposed to more technology,” Kacer said. “They’re smarter. They have access to more.

“The world has just gotten smaller for everyone,” she said. “They know about tsunamis.

“But they still like to play with Play-doh and they still like show and tell, and books, and singing songs and the things preschool offers.”

Kacer said preschool students still learn to share, work together and take turns.

Through the years, the Little Learners curriculum also included the Pilgrim feast, a trip to Pioneer Farms, a ferry boat ride, a visit to the dentist, a tour of Safeway and an outing to a pumpkin patch.

Running Little Learners was the perfect job for raising her own children, Kacer said, but it was also satisfying to know she was providing a safe, caring place for children to come to learn and grow each day.

“I’ve been really blessed to spend these last few years with her,” said Kacer’s assistant Beverly Petchnick, who will move on to a preschool opening at Peak Gym-nastics Center.