Q&A with Brenda Matthysse of Bearkitten Preschool
–My son is currently in his second year of the Bearkitten Preschool program at Paso Robles High School. It is a lab preschool for children 3-5 years old. I have said since we first started in the program that it is, without question, one of the best decisions we’ve made for our son in his four years of life. Mrs. Brenda as she is called by the kids, is one of the most pleasant, kind, patient, happy, kid-loving people I have ever met. She is one of the rare people that has truly met her calling.
Between Matthysse and her high school students, I could not be happier with how they interact with, educate, play with, and nurture these little ones. My wife and I plan on staying involved with the program even after this year when our boy leaves the program because we think it is just that valuable for our community and for the futures of the kids that are fortunate to be in it. Thanks to Matthysse for doing this and I hope you enjoy this Q&A.
Q&A with Brenda Matthysse
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from Minnesota. My father was transferred for his job from Minnesota to Santa Barbara, Calif., when I was about 7 years old, so I grew up in the Santa Barbara area. I directed a parent-child cooperative preschool there for eight years prior to coming to Paso and taught parent education.
What brought you to Paso Robles?
My parents were living in Paso Robles and the cost of living in Santa Barbara was extremely high so we figured it may be time for a move. My father had a company in the Paso Robles area, so I figured I would take time away from preschool and work there. We moved here when my oldest was entering her 10th grade year in high school. I only worked for my dad a few months and my daughter saw the opening for Bearkitten and teaching the ECE classes at the high school and encouraged me to apply.
What is the Bearkitten program all about?
That’s a big question! I really believe that “play is a child’s work!” At Bearkitten we want to help children develop social competence and become enthusiastic learners, eager to explore and confident about their growing skills in all areas of development. Success is dependent on a strong community of parents and teachers, working together to foster life-long competence in young children. To accomplish this, Bearkitten staff organizes the environment, plans relevant activities, selects materials, plans the daily schedule and interacts in a meaningful way with children every day.
How long have you been doing the Bearkitten program?
I’m just heading into my 17th year in January.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
I get to watch children learn and explore every day! I love it! I can’t believe I get to be witness to them as they grow and develop. It’s really a gift that I try never to take for granted. I also get to watch young high school students realize they make a difference every day and realize their true potential. I have been amazed at the level of dedication and talent I see every single year come through the Bearkitten door. It sounds kind of corny….but some students never realized how valued and talented they were until they became a Bearkitten teacher.
What is the most challenging part?
I think for me the most challenging part is being “on” all the time…or at least trying to be. I’m kind of an introvert in a career that demands a great deal of talking and interaction so the day wears me out.
Where would you like to see the program in the future?
I would love to see us in a new building in the future. That will take a great deal of work and probably some dedicated and proactive families to make sure the school board understands the importance of the program. I’m careful to make sure as we possibly grow and try to improve, to stay true to what is working and what has made this program special for so many years. There needs to be a balance and I’m always seeking feedback to make sure I’m on the right track.
How would you improve the program?
I want to grow and improve all the time, whether it is with the preschool group or the high school group. I make changes and adjustments every year to improve the details. I would like to see some improvements in online assessment and portfolios and I’m working toward that. High school teachers can track a child’s development with an online program and parents can have access and gain feedback on their child on a more regular basis. I’ve recently put into place the purchase of at least 20 iPads to get this program started.
What do you feel is one of your greatest accomplishments within the program?
It took me a long time to understand, but I’m good at helping others realize their potential whether it’s a small child or a high school student learning how to teach. If I can keep doing that, the impact is big for all of us.
You do a lot of different activities with the kids throughout the year, from theme days to holiday celebrations. What are some of your favorite activities during the year with the kids?
I love theme days! They provide great learning for the children and wonderful memories! It’s also wonderful to see the high school students showcase everything they have learned over the course of the year and plan developmentally appropriate activities and basically run all aspects of the the program!
I like holiday celebrations and field-trips because it brings us all together. I believe it’s important for the children to see us and the parents in a partnership.
What is the most important thing you teach the high school kids?
Be intentional about how you teach. No significant learning will happens without a significant relationship.
The preschool kids?
I think with the preschool children it all goes back to feeling like you belong and you’re competent or feeling comfortable enough to try. I want the children to know they belong in our community, they are valued and cared for and they are capable.
If you could be sure to send the kids away with any message, what would it be?
You are loved…