After 28 years of teaching — four at the high-school level and 24 in a Lutheran school, teaching 3- to 5-year-olds in the Springfield, Va., and Washington, D.C., area — Dorothy Fisch was ready for retirement… or at least semi-retirement.
After moving to the Delaware shore area permanently, she found a perfect fit for her semi-retirement in the youth services coordinator position at the Frankford Public Library. She’s affectionately known as everything from Ms. Darfy to Ms. Dorpy, to a pretty recognizable Ms. Dorothy — depending on the diction of the child asked.
On Tuesdays at 11 a.m., Ms. Dorothy brings her years of experience teaching preschoolers to the library with storytime, followed by a craft and, of course, a snack. The craft is usually an extension of the story; for instance, a story about frogs on a log had a picture of frogs on a log for the children to color. Many times the snack even matches — Lucky Charms cereal for the St. Patrick’s Day story and Teddy Grahams for a book about bears.
Adison Browne, 5, of Dagsboro, said he enjoys everything that goes into the hour.
“I like reading the books and making the pictures and eating the snack,” he said.
According to Fisch, Frankford Public Library always had some sort of preschool storytime and she took over when she came aboard more than eight years ago. In addition to story hour, Ms. Dorothy does summer reading programs and Wellness Wednesdays, and was to host a Read to Your Pet hour this past week — something the library has done in the past. Her job entails anything pertaining to the 2-14 age group.
It is something that brings her obvious joy — especially when the stories parallel real life and really speak to the children.
“I have loads of great memories,” said Fisch. “In one of our pet programs we did ‘Homer the Wonder Dog,’ and we had about 17 kids and they all sat there and listened and took turns, and it was great because Homer was a kind, gentle dog.”
That grandmotherly sense of calm and the image of a woman who is there to tend to scraped knees and hurt feelings is what keeps parents and children coming back each week.
“For me,” said Dawn Rexrod, mother of Mandy, “we like her because she is very grandmotherly.” That is something that is especially important to Rexrod because both her and her husband’s parents have passed away.
“The reason I love coming to the library is the sense of calmness it brings to the day,” said Lisa Browne, mother of three young boys, ages 5 and younger. “She’s so calm. We love her!”
Tot Time is for traditionally for preschoolers, but many of the children have younger brothers and sisters that come, too, and Ms. Dorothy always makes everyone feel included. Tot Time will end when school lets out and will start up again in September, but that doesn’t mean children should put the books away for summer. Ms. Dorothy has lots of great things planned.
For the summer reading program, kids can sign up and keep track of their reading, and every week there is a performance. For the kids who are too young to read, their parents can keep track.
“Reading is so important and they can do it anywhere: at home at the beach at the pool, as long as they keep track,” said Fisch.
Growing up in Woodstock, N.Y., Fisch always knew she wanted to be a teacher and got acquainted with Sussex County as a young girl. “I always thought I would be a teacher, and when I was younger I could walk to the library near my house. My parents started to vacation here and we would come down here, and we loved that Bethany Beach was such a family beach.”
In 1999, she and her husband made the move and they settled into their semi-retirement in southeastern Sussex — she working at the library and he as an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware’s Parallel Program in Georgetown.
In the years, since Ms. Dorothy started her work at the library, the town and the library have both seen a dramatic increase in the number of Spanish-speaking residents — something they are trying to embrace with a bilingual Wellness Wednesday and a once-a-month story hour in Spanish, hosted by co-worker Rosa Mendez.
“At the last Wellness Wednesday, we emphasized the 5-2-1-Almost None healthy lifestyle and made tortillas emphasizing the food groups and the different colors of food available,” said Fisch. “We are one of three library pilot programs that will be working in October on a preschool program, ‘Eat it Up,’ to educate the children about healthy eating and an active lifestyle. We do it a little now, but we’ll incorporate it into story time and do it more intentionally.”
The Frankford Public Library also boasts a bilingual computer with age-appropriate programs for children. They partake in “What’s the Big Idea,” part of the Mother Goose program that incorporates math and science for very young child, with age-appropriate kits that can be checked out.
“We have two copies of each kit and they cover four main ideas: Change over Time; Geometry and Spatial Relations, Patterns, and Numbers and Operations. You can easily integrate math and science in an informal way, so they can pick up on the fundamentals for when they get to the classroom,” said Fisch.
Ms. Dorothy and all of her library activities might be lost on the preschoolers who come simply to hear stories about frogs, squirrels or penguins. Nevertheless, the lessons that she quietly weaves into the stories are the very foundation they will take on their journey to formalized education in just a few short years. And as for a real retirement, it won’t be any time soon.
“I still enjoy it,” said Fisch, smiling. “I really love it.”