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Orland Park preschool teacher a study in dedication

Patti Bareither (center) with current former students.  |  Danielle Neveles~For Sun-Times Media

Patti Bareither (center) with current and former students. | Danielle Neveles~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 13, 2013 6:03AM



For some, it’s been more than 20 years since they were in her classroom, but they still remember the experiences.

They remember their teacher dressing up in Chicago Bulls gear, acting like a champion All-Star; still remember her dressed as “Queen A” teaching them the alphabet; still remember how special she made them feel.

For Heather Lewis, 26, her preschool teacher wasn’t just a teacher but a role model. It’s because of her teacher’s fun and energy that Lewis decided to pursue teaching as a career.

“I have so many wonderful memories of being in her classroom,” she said. “She was my inspiration and it’s because of ‘Mrs. B’ that I wanted to become a teacher.”

“Mrs. B,” as she affectionately is known to her students and their families, is Patti Bareither, of Orland Park, who has been teaching 3- and 4-year-olds at Christian Lutheran Early Weekday School (CLEWS) in Orland Park since 1988.

The program was only five years old then. There was only one classroom in the basement.

“Which I refer to as the dungeon,” said Carole Robinson, 75, Bareither’s aid since the program’s inception.

The program was new and small, but Bareither changed that. With a passion for creating programs for kids, she recreated it. She added activities to get children moving, learning and having fun.

With 10 years of teaching in Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview School District 89, Bareither had classroom experience. She’d also been a team leader for District 89 and hosted workshops on the open classroom model.

But when she was asked to take over the program at CLEWS, she wasn’t sure at first.

“I saw the possibilities of what I could do, but I still prayed about it to see if it was where I was supposed to be,” she said.

When she finally knew, she brought her joy for elementary education into preschool.

“Before she came, the program just wasn’t creative and the children weren’t having fun,” Robinson said.

Bareither developed a creative curriculum which combined lessons on social morality, and spiritual and mental development with hands-on educational activities.

For instance, last year they made apple sauce and allowed the children to practice their math while getting their hands a little dirty.

To teach kids the alphabet, each letter would be given a week and a theme. For the letter J, one year it was Jungle Week. Students learned how to pronounce the letter and studied words that begin with the letter. Robinson wrote songs and poetry to accompany the lessons with Bareither’s guidance.

Of course, the highlight of each year is the Teddy Bear Picnic. The picnic is the finale for the school year. For the first year’s picnic, children gave presentations about what they want to be when they grew up. Now it’s a show. Each child has three to four minutes to act out their dream profession. So an aspiring firefighter may pretend to rescue a kitten in a tree or put out a fire. It is also when they receive their memory book, a photo album of pictures taken throughout the year of their performances.

But the kids aren’t the only ones dressing up for class. Bareither dresses up as different characters to capture the children’s attention. Playing Cruella DeVil was a highlight for students, since no one sees “Mrs. B” as a villain.

“She’s dedicated to the program and the students,” Robinson said.

To celebrate her 25 years of dedication at CLEWS, the teachers surprised her with a party in June at Christ Lutheran Church in Orland. Lewis was among the current and former students and their families who came to celebrate “Mrs. B.”

“She’s been influential in the person I’ve become,” said former student Pat Page, 21. “She’s taught me how to be respectful.”

“She touches so many children’s lives, and we wanted her to see them all grown up,” said Jill Harris, one of the teachers who helped plan the event. Harris teaches 3-year-olds at CLEWS.

Children and fellow teachers weren’t the only ones praising her work. Parents, too, expressed admiration for her.

“She gave children a good start,” said Joyce Somogye, whose daughter attended CLEWS in 1995 and 1996. “She encouraged them to present, to perform and to speak up.”

When the program began, CLEWS had only 10 students. But as it developed, word spread. Classes started to fill up and parents used to camp out hours before registration opened just to guarantee their child’s spot.

After years of teaching in Orland Park, Bareither is recognized as “Mrs. B” seemingly everywhere she goes.

Bareither, 65, hasn’t really thought about retiring.

“It’s my passion and I love it,” she said.



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