A Tale of Two Educators

How Kathleen Olinger and Anthony Andrews are increasing early childhood education in the Hill City

How Kathleen Olinger and Anthony Andrews are increasing early childhood education in the Hill City

Two new early child care centers are on the horizon in Lynchburg. One opened this past fall and another will open its doors this August, and both have unique ideas for filling the childcare needs for the city.

Earlier this fall, Kathleen Olinger, along with three other Montessorians, started Hill City Montessori School located  at 1301 Rivermont Ave. at the terrace level of Gospel  Community Church.

Olinger said the school offers mutual respect and collaboration between students and adults through guidance, empathy, and preparation of the environment. 

“Four of us who had worked in Montessori communities for 10 years came together to build a local school that we believed in,” she said. “So, we’ve taken all the lovely things that we’ve learned, and we’re putting it into the heart and soul of this whole city.”

Montessori education prepares students for a life of purpose from birth to adulthood. The mission of the school is to cultivate a diverse, inclusive, Montessori community through family partnerships and the preparation of the whole child. They believe in responsive education that supports not only students, but their families as well. 

“As Dr. Montessori has said, ‘establishing lasting peace is the work of education,’” Olinger said. “Through high-quality, comprehensive, and science-based education, we are able to offer appropriate and effective early childhood education—and beyond—that we believe can truly solve so many issues in our local community, and society as a whole.”

Olinger said the further she went to school for education, the more she realized traditional education was not what she wanted to pursue with teaching.

After enrolling her child in a Montessori school, she said she started to fall in love with its style and mission.

Olinger eventually became the head of school and executive director of a Montessori school and has training in Montessori leadership. 

Montessori schools focus on a child-led, comprehensive, whole education for students, Olinger said.

“It’s all about preparing for life beyond school. It’s all about preparing the human—the whole child,” she said. 

Montessori education goes beyond just academics. It’s about providing emotional, social, and basic, everyday life skills. Students don’t sit at desks, do lots of worksheets, or use much plastic. Olinger said the classrooms are cozy and students learn to use everyday items, preparing them for independence.

 “I have an extreme desire to make Montessori accessible to the average family and not just elitist,” she said. “I want to make it a program that actually gives back to the community.”

Olinger is also a certified Positive Discipline Educator and offers courses at a sliding scale for families and adults to also gain the tools and community needed to become equipped to interact in a way that offers mutual respect and collaboration and fosters healthy relationships. 

“Such skills will have a positive impact on not only the children they may have in their households or in their classrooms, but also with adults they meet as well,” she said.

Hill City Montessori School offers additional education opportunities and book clubs that are open to the greater community, often at no cost, that are specific to potty training, independence, inclusivity, and more. 

“We believe in equipping our students, adults, and fellow humans of Lynchburg, so that we can learn from one another, collaborate, and work together to create a more beautiful, healthy, and responsive community,” she said.

Olinger said there has been research to prove that students who attend Montessori schools for early childhood education do significantly better with their social and emotional skills later in life.

“So that foundation is irreplaceable,” she said.

The school offers spots for kids from birth to sixth grade.

With less than 30 subsidy providers in Lynchburg, Olinger said school leaders are also part of the community that believes in offering high-quality education in a way that is accessible and inclusive. 

The child care subsidy program through the state of Virginia subsidizes the cost of child care for qualifying families and allows them to choose education that feels right to them without the cost eliminating their opportunity.

Olinger said the biggest focus is responsive education.

“We want to be evolving and checking in with ourselves and being aware of who we are and making sure that we’re making mission-focused decisions,” she said. “We’re going to put ourselves in the heart of Lynchburg and serve the families as best as we possibly can.”

Later this year, Anthony Andrews will be opening a new preschool near Lynchburg General Hospital at 1915 Thomson Dr. called Teachable Moments Preschool.

The new school will make room for about 70 new students from six weeks to five years old.

Andrews said he has been holding onto this dream for a while—since 2006 in fact.

Andrews said Sackett Wood, president of Moore & Giles, has been an instrumental person who believed in Andrews from the beginning when he decided he had a dream of opening a preschool one day.

“Sackett asked me what my passion was and what I wanted to do with my life, and I told him that I wanted to start a preschool,” Andrews said. “He was the very first person not only to give me advice on the business side of things, but he financially invested in me as a person.”

It all started about 16 years ago with a three-month-old baby girl who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and Andrews, a firefighter with the Lynchburg Fire Department, responded to the call. The baby was at a daycare center held at someone’s home.

When he and his wife Stephanie had their daughter, Alaya, they decided to learn more about child care and how they could prevent such a tragic situation from happening to their own baby.

“One thing led to another and we looked for quality child care, and we couldn’t find any that we really enjoyed,” Andrews explained. “It wasn’t until two years later that we found Centra’s child care center and my love for child care started blossoming from there. Everything that my daughter was learning at school, I wanted to add to or supplement that at home.”

From there, Andrews started getting more involved in child care, learning about brain development, and learning how children learn and grow.

Andrews now serves on the Lynchburg School Board, was a teacher for six years at Elizabeth’s Early Learning Center, and was the assistant director of Peakland Preschool for two years.

His upcoming Teachable Moments Preschool will begin taking potential students for a waitlist, and enrollment will begin late spring of 2023. He said onboarding for teachers will also begin around the same time.

“They don’t really tend to get enough credit,” Andrews said of preschool teachers. “We’re still in that whole mindset of ‘we’re babysitting service,’ but we’re not. We’re definitely a validated profession that’s taking care of kids and just trying to help them transition to elementary school.”

Once the 6,400-square-foot preschool opens in August, Andrews said it will meet the needs of parents who are essential workers as well as filling in a crucial hole of the child care desert in that area of the city.

“The other need is the need to fulfill an underprivileged demographic that sometimes gets swept under the rug,” he said. “If a kid comes from Diamond Hill or College Hill, sometimes there’s a stigma that they don’t deserve high quality child care, and that is false.”

He said he wants to fulfill a need of having a true, diverse student population made up of all types of students from different backgrounds.

Unique approaches to meeting needs in the community include being located on a public bus line, matching two percent of student’s tuition each year to go toward a 529 college plan, and wellness checks at the clinic, which allow kids to get ahead of RSV, common colds and seasonal allergies. 

 “We want to help identify some things that may be on the horizon when it comes down to illnesses and injuries for children and for staff but also give parents an opportunity to prevent those things from happening,” Andrews said.

Even though the preschool is private, Andrews hopes to create a nonprofit arm of the organization to tap into funding to help enrich the curriculum, books, and materials, and allow for field trips.

“I’m super excited about all the things that we have to offer now in our little world,” he said. “I’m so excited for what we have to offer Lynchburg.”  

Photos by Ashlee Glen

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