All in the family

Ward Elementary School’s family teaching triumverate (from left): Patt Kramer, Meghan Hyatt and Maripat Hyatt.
Varina’s Ward Elementary School is home to a unique trio of generational teachers who embody the art of teaching through a level of dedication that is representative of their relationship with each other, as well as their students.

Maripat Hyatt, the school’s art teacher since it opened, is at home in her art room, or “palace,” a brightly decorated and welcoming space, accentuated by tie-dye curtains, plants, students’ work and pictures. It is apparent that the room is special, just like her bond and connection with Ward Elementary, its students and faculty. The art room is centrally located in the school, allowing for the “hug brigade” to pass by as students come out of breakfast and share hugs with her, something she looks forward to every day.

“Every once in a while I wonder, ‘Do I ever want to do something else?’ No. Where do you get to go everyday where people love you, give you hugs and like what you teach them to do,” Hyatt says.

Just down the hallway, her mother, Patt Kramer, a special education instructional assistant at Ward, works with seven students in grades 2-5.

She joined the staff in 2003 after volunteering at Ward for a year and discovering that the special education program was going to expand. With a background in nursing, she felt that the children would need someone with her grandmotherly charm and a medically oriented background; and she was right.

Working at Ward opened up new doors for Kramer, who has been able to impact the lives of children, while also gaining a sense of community – something she had longed for her whole life, after moving excessively over the years.

A student returns
The teaching evolution continued when Maripat Hyatt’s daughter, Meghan (a JMU graduate) was unable to find a job and a substitute teaching position opened at Ward. Two years later, she accepted a full-time position in the special education department after falling in love with children and tuning into what her mother believes has always been her true calling.

For Meghan, returning to Ward was an easy transition. She attended Ward as a student the first year it opened and completed third, fourth and fifth grades there. As a teacher, she found herself back at a school at which her former principal was now her boss and her mother and grandmother could be found right down the hall.

Meghan Hyatt became fully involved in the special education program. Her desire to make an impact on the children is evident, along with a love for them that is clearly visible.

She began a program through which she matches the gifted class with her disabilities class during art so the students are able to receive social connection and awareness. Her hope is that the program will prepare them to appreciate the differences in people and provide them with a positive exposure to diversity that they will be able to carry with them in middle and high school.

Her hope is something that all three women possess. Each is dedicated to working with children and making a difference.

In a room with all three women present, there is a strong feeling of dedication, comfort and passion that can be felt. Their relationship sets an example for students and shows them how family can work together and accomplish common goals and purposes, which some of the students may not see at home.

“I think what’s tangible is the love felt here, and it’s as simple and as complicated as that,” Kramer says. “I’ve watched Maripat in multiple situations, and her patience and ability to discipline in a loving way or manage the classroom and get the kids to respond in a positive way is remarkable. They know they have a friend or someone to give a hug to or get a hug [from]. It’s a feeling that is permeable because she’s been here the whole time and it’s a unique experience.”

The uniqueness is evident to anyone who visits their classrooms. Principal David Burgess describes the situation as a natural evolution of teaching.

“When the three generations are at school it’s all about the kids. So the beneficiaries of the three are our kids – all our kids,” Burgess says.

Sharing family values
One of the most apparent characteristics of the generational teachers is the strong sense of community and family values that exists in their presence.

Visit the local grocery store and don’t be surprised to hear children yelling down the aisles, “Ms. Hyatt! Is that you Ms. Hyatt?” if they spot their teacher, who lives three miles down the road from Ward. She’s one of the four teachers that each student visits every week, creating a common thread and relationship that lasts from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It’s really interesting when kids realize that’s my mother [Kramer] and that’s my daughter [Hyatt]. They have this sort of dumbfounded look on their face for a minute and want to know why her last name is different. It’s not common because a lot have single-parent families. What that does for the students is allow them to see how family can work together and have a common goal and purpose, which they may not see at home. That’s the biggest key.”

It’s an interesting experience for the three teachers, who act as flies on the walls for each other, watching as their family members transition and grow as teachers and as their students evolve as well.

All three women are very comfortable taking risks, working with people and – most importantly for them – putting the needs of the kids first.

“It tickles me,” Kramer says with a chuckle. “I think it’s fun and fascinating to watch my child grow to adulthood, and it’s not a usual experience parents have. There’s Meghan, who is my first grandchild, and Maripat, my first child. History repeats itself.

“I’m so proud of my children, but being here and being able to express and experience their world is amazing.”
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