Mary Schulte Retires After 36 Years with Early Education Center
Mary Schulte started with the Infant and Toddler program 36 years ago and is celebrating her retirement this week. Mary has a heart for children and has been an integral piece in the success of this program. We asked her to reflect on her time at the Early Education Center and share some of her favorite memories.
T | Tell us a little bit about your role at the Early Education Center and your work with the Infant and Toddler program.
M | I've been with the Early Education Center (EEC) for 36 years. This was my first job when my husband and I moved to Kansas. Marcia Corey and I developed the Special Beginnings program in the late 80's at the EEC. I work with babies that are in the hospital or have just come home from the hospital and are babies that are medically fragile. In the past, we used to have families bring their child into our office but for the last several years, I spent my time doing in-home and hospital visits. We found that families are more likely to follow through with our services if I am able to go to them.
When I visit a family for the first time, I never know what to expect. My job is to step in and figure out if our services are needed and how we can help. This may mean that I meet with the family weekly or monthly - it depends on the needs of the child and the preference of the family. I never work with children past the age of three.
T | Tell us a little bit about your background in education. When did you get started and what made you want to be involved in Early Education, specifically?
M | My husband and I went to school at Vanderbilt. I graduated from the Peabody College of Education and my first job was working at the Kennedy Center with their infant and toddler program, one of the first programs in our country. When we relocated to Hutchinson, I never imagined finding a program in our community that was as cutting edge as it was. I couldn't have been more pleased that they were not only simply AWARE of the importance of an infant and toddler program but it was a program that had been excelling in the community.
T | What are some of the things you wish people understood about the Infant and Toddler program at the EEC?
M | It's something we've done for many years but several people don't realize we provide free developmental screenings for infants. We are able to provide this service to families for free and it's a way for families to realize everything unique and wonderful about their child. EVERY child comes with needs and this screening supports and helps people recognize those. I always encourage parents to take advantage of this. Beyond the free developmental screenings, I want people to understand that every journey for every child is unique. The support system in the community that often goes underutilized and ranges from very minimal support to a highly involved level.
T | What do you think is most valuable for a child going through the EEC program?
M | That we are there to look at the child's strengths as well as needs. Also, that we are there not only for the child's needs but we work to find a way to support the family and help direct them towards success. This may mean connecting them with housing resources or financial resources. We don't make those calls for them but we gather the information and create an opportunity to help them make those connections.
T | Tell us about your first memory here.
M | I remember starting out and being overwhelmed at how much I thought I knew and what I really knew about families. Over the course of 36 years, families have taught me more than I ever taught them. I would come back with the staff and find joy and passion. I developed a comrade with my co-workers. You have to have humor or you're not going to make it. When you see terrible things that can happen out there, it's important to have a safe haven in your team to come back to and keep you going. TECH sees the value in this program and they are committed - they never waivered - to make it happen, regardless of state funding.
T | What has surprised you the most in your career?
M | The resilience of families and of children.
T | What has been the most challenging part of your career?
M | I've become so much less judgemental. I began to understand that every parent loves their child but may not have emotional or financial means to care for that child. I found that you have to pull the one little thread that's good in every situation and build upon that. I'm going to miss being able to go in, even for a short time, and join with that family to make progress.
T | Have you had a mentor?
M | Short of the relationship with the Lord - for me that is hope and grace. This has been significant for me in working with families. Faith is important because you are constantly pouring yourself out. Marcia Corey taught me so much in looking for the good in families.
I connected with Marcia right away. She was the heart and soul of the program and I was the research - we made a great team! I scoured for data to back up the techniques that we used. When Marcia left, I had to become the heart and soul.
I would also say that I'm inspired to work alongside nurses, doctors, and other community team members. There are so many valuable community programs here in Reno County and those folks come together and wrap around families to help create progress. Reno County has a great system and is a good place for families.
T | If you didn't pursue this career, what do you think you would be doing?
M | I would have gone into medicine, probably pediatrics. I have always been really fascinated with the neuroscience/plasticity of the brain. On the other hand, in the medical world, you don't get to see the environment. I'd say I'm right where I needed to be....being able to affect change for families.
T | What do you do when you're not working?
M | I do women's ministries at my church. I'm excited to have more time to mentor other women. I've even tooled with the idea of doing some writing, maybe a children's book series. I'd like to have a little time to travel and spend with my husband and my grandkids!
T | Any final thoughts?
M | It's exciting to be a part of a field that has evolved so much in the last 30 years and to be able to be a model for programs across the state on how community funding sources can come together to support children and their families in the community.
From all of us at TECH, thank you, Mary, for your dedication to the Infant and Toddler program at the Early Education Center. Your contributions are too large to measure and we can't thank you enough for all you've done to move things forward for this program and for our community. Congratulations on your retirement!