Children’s Montessori Preschool owner Shelli Petty outside the school which has been attended by hundreds of local children through the years. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Playground equipment at Children’s Montessori Preschool. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Shelli Petty says she has never had a day when she didn’t laugh during her 30 years of working with children. Although her Children’s Montessori Preschool at 1060 Nugget Street closed at the end of January and she faces the daunting task of clearing out all her treasures, she is still focused on children, wondering aloud if certain items could go to the families of children she worked with many years ago.
“Kids are awesome,” she told the Los Alamos Reporter. “I have enjoyed it so much and I am very sad to see it come to an end.”
Petty, a Los Alamos native, graduated from Los Alamos High School in 1971. Although best known for her work with local preschools, she also made a mark on the community with her baton twirling school which she started when she was 16 years old along with Cathy Larson and Roxanne Hampton. They were known as the Tres Senoritas Twirling School. Petty went on to run her Rainbow Twirling from 1984 to 2009.
Petty worked many jobs over the years, starting in high school at the local five and dime store for $1.08 an hour. While she was working as a pharmacy technician at Smith’s, she realized how much children made her laugh and that she needed to work with them. She went on to work and train as a Montessori preschool teacher and spent 12 years running the Christian Montessori Preschool for the Episcopal Church before eventually setting up her own space at the corner of Nugget Street and Canyon Road.
“It has been a wonderful location. The neighbors have been so supportive over all these years which has made it a great place to be,” Petty said.
She has photos all over the place of children she taught going back to her earliest days working with little people. She said children and even adults called it Miss Shelli’s School.
“One of my greatest joys was having my daughter, Melanie, and my son, Richie on the staff for more than 20 years. Melanie created yearbooks and newsletters and was great with computers. Richie also worked with computers as well as the upkeep of learning aids, materials and activity centers. We had a wonderful time working together,” Petty said.
She said she has also enjoyed seeing kids she had in pre-school graduating from Los Alamos High School and seeing their accomplishments.
The last date Petty had children at the facility was January 29. She said COVID restrictions made it increasingly difficult to operate. The children could not use their stuffed toy pet adoption center or dress up items. There were no group activities and it was just not as much fun.
“It was hard to keep them apart. We had six hand-washing stations as well as the existing sinks. The masks had to be taken off every three hours for feeding the children and if they wore them outside, they got them dirty,” she said.
Many parents who were working from home decided to keep their children at home with them and as more children dropped out, it became harder and harder to pay rent and utilities.
Petty said she has been shocked by the generosity of her neighbors, parents of former students and members of the community who have responded in her time of need.
“People have contributed small and large amounts to help out and I couldn’t be more grateful. I had spent a huge amount of my savings in the past year trying to keep things going. One couple sent me a large check noting that I had forgiven payment years ago when they were going through a hard time and they wanted to take care of me in my time of need,” she said.
A Go Fund Me account has been established to benefit Petty and may be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/relief-for-childrens-montessori-preschool?fbclid=IwAR3ByhO68uKeTxOVJORDcJjBfoEGQNDVV4WvP1dFIoxx8C94YVwijlLPnpw
Petty is holding Saturday sales at 1060 Nugget beginning at 8 a.m. throughout this month to sell the contents of the building including furniture, tables and chairs for children, shelving, playground equipment, learning aids and materials – anything you could imagine in a pre-school. Watch for announcements on local media.