After 40 years of teaching preschool, Pat Mehler isn’t going anywhere
Nov 07, 2018 11:46AM
By Jana Klopsch
Pat Mehler entertaining kids in 2017 while they wait for the Sandy City fire safety presentation to start. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Pat Mehler of Sandy has taught preschool classes in her basement for the last 40 years. Kids love teacher Pat, and their energy and love keeps her going strong year after year.
When it’s pick-up time at Pat’s Preschool in Sandy, parents wait in their cars in front of her house. Soon, 15 4-year-olds appear with backpacks on their backs, projects in their hands and smiles on their faces. Behind them, an energetic teacher emerges. Mehler doles out hugs and keeps the kids from running into the street.
“I love every minute of it. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it,” said Mehler, who has run a preschool in her home for nearly 40 years. She stands in her driveway and socializes, waiting to go inside until every child is picked up. Many parents have known her for years, or were students of hers themselves, and want to chat. Middle school kids walking home see Mehler and rush over for a hug. She loves and has time for them all.
On Oct. 15 the preschool had a special treat: a visit from Lenore Corey and Kimberly Hornberger of the Sandy City Fire Education Team. Corey has welcomed Mehler’s students to the fire station for their annual field trip for more than 10 years. “Pat is the best. She’s so thoughtful and kind and caring,” Corey said.
The presentation on fire safety was moved to the preschool this year while the station is remodeled. Kids love the fun props during the lesson. They call out answers to questions about candles and hot stoves. They practice “Stop, Drop and Roll!” and Mehler sings and rolls right alongside them.
Mehler was raised in Monticello, Utah, and her father was the principal of the high school. When she moved to Sandy in the 1970s, she and her husband looked for a house. “I told Steve that I had to get a house that had a backyard and a basement so that I could teach preschool,” Mehler said. They found it, and have been in the house ever since.
While raising four children of her own, Mehler opened Pat’s Preschool in 1978. Parents in the neighborhood started sending their kids there. Thanks to word-of-mouth advertising, she’s been full every year. Her grown daughters, Ashlee and Hollie, now help her as teaching assistants.
Angela Hogan Rich grew up in Sandy and was in one of Mehler’s first preschool classes. “What’s amazing is that Pat still remembers me. She really loves and remembers her kids years later. And I have great memories of the end-of-year water party,” said Rich. With a five-day-a-week schedule, and morning and afternoon (and summertime!) sessions, an estimated 2,000+ students have gone to Pat’s Preschool.
Education at the school is decidedly low-tech. There are no computers or fancy curriculum. There is a lot of coloring, sharing, and emphasis on basics like the alphabet and colors. When the weather’s good, kids play in the backyard.
“I want the kids to build self-esteem. I want them to like coming to school. I want them to develop social skills and know that someone loves them,” said Mehler of her philosophy and curriculum.
Kids at Pat’s learn to sit on their “spot” at group time and take turns. They learn about holidays, bring show-and-tell, sing fun songs and of course eat snacks. There are cooking lessons when Mehler takes the whole group upstairs to her kitchen and makes smoothies, homemade doughnuts or veggie trays. And there is a field trip about once a month.
Mehler’s preschool thrives on traditions, like the graduation party. It takes place in her backyard at the end of the school year. Mehler and her daughters set up wading pools, and kids bring lunches and play and watch a magic show with their families.
Graduation day encapsulates all that is important to Mehler. Outside play, time with peers, time with family and individual recognition. Mehler reads each student’s name one by one and brings them to the front. She gives them a hug, a diploma and some bubbles. “I want each student to have their special moment in front of their family members and friends,” Mehler said.
Families who come to graduation and still have little ones at home all say the same thing to Mehler. “Please just do this for another year so my other child can come!” She can’t make any promises, but smiles and tells them, “I’ll do it for as long as I can.”