Open house set

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    Warwick-Students and parents know her as "Teacher Betty." She has been a fixture at the Small Fry Preschool at the Warwick Community Center for 20 years. This Sunday, her current and former students and parents will bid her farewell as Teacher Betty moves on to the next chapter in her life: retirement. Betty Finlay came to Warwick with her husband, Bob, in 1979 and started working at what was then called the Doc Fry Community Center in 1984. "She was the babysitter for the mother's group at the center," said Lauren, the youngest of the Finlay's three children, including sons Rob and Ryan. "The director of the center saw how she was with the kids and said she wasn't a babysitter-she is a preschool teacher." And a career was born. Teacher Betty was the first-and up until now, the only-teacher at the preschool. She taught both the three and four year old programs. Lauren estimates that she taught upwards of 500 children over her 20 years at the school. Many of them have very fond memories. Kathy Kenney sent all four of her children to Teacher Betty, something she reflected on with glowing memories. "I figured it out-we were there for seven straight years with Teacher Betty," said Kenney, who spent most of the 1990s with preschoolers. "All of my children were happy there. We have fond memories of their time there." Helen Truitt agreed. Truitt has three sons, all of whom were students with Teacher Betty. "Betty always gave the kids individual attention," said Truitt. "If they walked in her classroom now, she would know them immediately." Kenney remembers the special touch Finlay had with the children, especially when it came time to perform in holiday shows. "Even if your child didn't want to sing, she could get them all onstage smiling," Kenney said. "Eventually, they would all be singing." Thanksgiving stands out in Truitt's mind. "The Thanksgiving banquet was so wonderful," she said. "I think that is her favorite thing to do with the kids. Everyone brought food in and ate together. The kids were all dressed like Pilgrims and Indians. It was a real community event." Truitt also credits Finlay with getting one of her sons to march in the preschool Halloween parade, even though he was apprehensive. "My son was very shy," she said. "She held his hand the whole time they marched around the center." Her day-to-day touch never went unnoticed either. Truitt found Finlay's loving, nurturing way reassuring to her. "We moved here in November when my oldest son was 4 1/2," said Truitt, who immediately looked for a preschool for him. "We lucked out because Betty had a spot that January for him. As a parent, you try to find a place for your child that is safe and secure. Betty is motherly and warm, so I knew my children wouldn't miss that when they came to school." Kenney said what differentiated Finlay from others is her emphasis on play and socialization instead of just ABCs. "She was just great," Kenney said. "She stressed play and socialization, not just ABCs, and I agreed with that. They will get the ABCs for the rest of their lives. She encouraged them to have fun and play." Lauren Finlay remembers her mother's dedication to the children most of all. She said that the building was closed one session for repairs. Her mom would not let the parents or the children down so she moved the preschool to her own dining room! Now, Teacher Betty is moving on herself. She and her husband are heading to Cape May, NJ, for a long, happy retirement. "It is sad but I'm also happy that she is moving on," said Kenney. "She's worked hard. She is allowed to retire." Kenney is sure the preschool will be left in good hands. "All the ladies are great there," she said. "They all have the same temperament." Lauren Finlay said she is hoping that all of her mom's students and parents will make the open house this Sunday, from 1-3 p.m., at the school. "We will certainly be there," said Truitt. "Teacher Betty will always be a part of our lives."