This is Jean Mcmillen interviewing Jeanne Wardell at her home 87 Cobble Road in Salisbury, Ct. The date is Monday November 28, 2011.
JPM:What is your full name?
JW:Jeanne Degnan Wardell
JPM:Where were you born?
JW:I was born in New Haven, Connecticut.
JPM:What were your parents; full names?
JW:My mother is Josephine B. Degnan and my father is Thomas Joseph Degnan.
JPM:Do you have siblings?
JW:Yes, I have three. I have 2 brothers and one sister, Tom and Jack and my sister is Pat.
JPM:Do you have children?
JW: I have three children?
JPM:What are their names, please?
JW:My daughter’s name is Lisa. My sons are Daniel and Ricky.
JPM:Where were you educated?
JW:I went to St. Mary’s Academy in New Haven for high school and St. Joseph College in West Hartford. I got my Master’s at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.
JPM:How did you come to this area?
JW:My husband took over the National Iron Bank’s home office in Falls Village. We moved up here to be in the neighborhood.
JPM:How did you get involved with Little Scholar School?
JW:My children were 4, 6 and 2 1/2, and I decided that I wanted to use some of my educational skills. I opened a nursery school, and the youngest one came with me to nursery school.
JPM:Did you start the school or did you buy it from someone?
JW:I bought the school from Ellen Nelson (and Claudia Warner). What I actually bought was her good name of a running playgroup. It was held in the Masonic Lodge in Lakeville, and I made it in to a nursery school. The curriculum was a little bit different than the play group. I did buy it from her.
JPM:How many students did you have in the beginning?
JW:Because it was a running playgroup before, I inherited the children that she had and then added of course. We started off with about 20, went up to 26 at one point, and then as the years went on we varied around that.
JPM:What were the ages of the children?
JW:They were 3 1/2 to 5.
JPM:What time and days of the week were you in session?
JW:Four mornings a week; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. And the times were 9-12.
JPM:Did you have any assistants?
JW:Oh yes, I always had two, at least two assistants (Denise Rice, Penny Kashland, Mary Stanton… Ed.) Sometimes an intern, some body that was going to college and wanted to get some experience with young children would come in and give us a helping hand. There were always two assistants with me.
JPM:Where did the children come from?
JW:They came largely from Salisbury, Lakeville and then the surrounding towns of Sharon, Canaan, and even Kent and Millerton.
JPM:How long did you own the school?
JW:Well it was in January of 1968 that I bought the good name of a running school, play group, and I sold it in 1982. So it was about 14 years.
JPM:To whom did you sell it?
JW:I sold it to Leslie Allen and Sharon Hurlbutt.
JPM:Is the school still going?
JW:Unfortunately I have to say no; just this summer it closed for lack of enrollment, and there is a day school, now a play group that goes for the entire day. Mothers send their children there now because their needs are different. They are working and want a whole day program, so the two women that started it are no longer there.
JPM:Did it conflict with the Housatonic Day Care at all when you started your school?
JW:No because the Housatonic Day Center hadn’t started. Then as time went on, they even called and said,”Oh we’ve going to be competing with you in a sense for the times for children to come to school.” But it didn’t really hurt me. Mine was a different type of establishment.
JPM:Now you talked about lessons. What were some of the things that you did for motor skills for these children?
JW:Well, certainly we had lots of play equipment. We had an outdoor area, slides and sand box; inside we had block building and other activities that they could use their motor skills to develop them.
JPM:How about creativity? How was that fostered?
JW:We had art and music. We went on trips, such as walking trips to identify leaves, and trees. We always discussed things afterwards and get ideas of how they could reproduce what they had just experienced in art form.
JPM:You told me about a study that you did about the effect of television on children. Would you refresh my memory?
JW:There is an association that is called “Action for Children’s Television” out of Boston. I had subscribed to their magazine and any information that they had. So I decided with the information that I had from them to investigate on the effect of TV on children. What we did was parents eliminated TV from the children’s day’s activity, except for one hour a day right before dinner, preferably because mothers were busy preparing meals. They didn’t watch any television except for that on the five days of the week. Pretty much on the weekend parents had to choose what hour they wanted their children to watch. The effect over a period of three months was written down. I noticed little changes in the children’s activities and their interaction with one another. I noticed that they became more industrious with some of the games and the activities that we had that they could play with individually, particularly those kids that were full of pizzazz and kind of boisterous in all. They interacted with the other children in a different manner, and some of the kids went in the corner and worked on things by themselves. Mind you, over that period of time there couldn’t be major changes, but it was awareness on my part that there was an effect from the programs that they were watching on TV in their behavior. We met after the study was done with all the parents. I shared with them the things I had noticed, and then the parents decided that they would like, largely mothers, to continue this with the children and not have them watch as much TV as they had been watching before we did this. So the outcome was positive.
JPM:If we were doing a similar study today with computers, do you think there would be a similar effect of computers on children’s social ability?
JW:Well, first of all I think it would be very hard to eliminate computers because they have them on their cell phones, they have them in every room in the house, but I certainly think that they’d have to develop more industrious things to do if they didn’t have it. It would be a different matter today. We have come a long way since that time in those 20 years.
JPM:In reviewing the years since you have had your school, how do you think the town has changed toward children and children’s activities?
JW:The town has recognized the need for starting children early in some kind of educational program. That’s why the Day Care is so popular because if the child goes to kindergarten now and does not have any kind of group activity or individual development like they stress in the Day Care now, and I certainly stressed, the child is behind the 8 ball when they start school. There is a recognition; it’s not only the town, everybody knows that a child that has had some education before they start kindergarten is in a far better position to start learning on a higher level.
JPM:Is there anything about your school that I haven’t asked, or you would like to add to this interview?
JW:Well, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the years that I worked with young children, and it certainly led me to go into the field that I went into after I left which was getting my Master’s in Social Work, and then working with troubled adolescents and their families. It was invaluable that I had had this experience and was one of the reasons why I went into the field I did afterwards because parents would ask me about problems that they had with their children and how they can change some of the activities or their thinking or their way of handling the kids. It was invaluable to me, and I loved the kids. I certainly miss the young children. They will always be a great part of my life as being very happy, but I certainly was glad that I went on because I am doing what I wanted to do.
JPM:It is a growing cycle.
JPM:Thank you so much, Mrs. Wardell.