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Hilary Graves wasn’t going to let a pandemic get in the way of what she always wanted to do: own a preschool.
In May 2020, Grave purchased A Better Choice Preschool, which had been closed since the previous March because of the pandemic.
“The former owner was kind enough to let us transition and start working on updates to the building during April and May, which was a huge help to us,” Graves said.
Graves first reopened the downtown Lee’s Summit business as a summer camp in June 2020. The first school year began that August. The business was recognized this past August as the Best Preschool 2021 in “KC Magazine.”
“We were not surprised at all that ABC was chosen as the best preschool,” said Jenni Edwards, a Lee’s Summit resident whose son Ben attends A Better Choice.
“The teachers and leadership are so well prepared, kind and really love being there. They have new, fun activities every day and have created a really special environment where kids can be kids and focus on playing to learn and grow.”
The business is a lifelong dream for Graves.
“I have always wanted to own a preschool and have always worked in and advocated for early childhood education,” said Graves, a former kindergarten teacher.
“I knew going into ownership that my favorite part would be the children, and they still are, but I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy creating a community of families,” Graves said.
“We not only get to form strong relationships with the children inside the classroom, we get to form bonds with their whole family. From moms and dads, to brothers and sisters, grandparents and even pets.”
Teaching in a pandemic has its challenges: The way students entered the building had to be changed; the number of students in the building had to be limited; snacks and lunch were eaten outside as much as possible; and toys and learning materials had to be rotated for cleaning.
“The biggest challenge that we are still facing is how to involve parents in those memorable moments that every parent wants to have with their young child,” Graves said.
For example, parent activities like “Pastries with Parents” and the pre-K graduation had to be moved outside.
“Our parents are so encouraging and supportive of the changes that have been made that they make our jobs easier.“
Graves said her staff has been exceptional.
“We have all stepped in and stepped up when it came to doing what’s best for our students,” she said. “Many, including myself, came to teach in-person while our own children were learning online. We have had to be flexible, innovative and patient with each other as we navigated almost weekly changes.”
Graves said the future of early education is bright.
“I am excited for the direction of early childhood education,” she said. “From local school districts making it a priority to universal pre-K being backed at a national level, people are realizing the importance of early childhood education and that’s a win for all children.”