On a sleepy stretch of Millaudon St. in the Black Pearl, barely out of the shadow of Loyola’s Law School, rests an unassuming sky blue two-story home with a handsome vegetable patch of a front yard, also known as the Sunshine School. A daycare during the week, once a year this coming Saturday morning from 10 to noon, the garden will host the school’s Farmer’s Market and sell homegrown veggies, baked goods, and small plants that Lynne Hempe and her students have propagated. All of the proceeds will be donated to charity. As a father of one of Ms. Lynne’s preschoolers, a story about this now annual boutique event and her squad are frankly too good to pass.
As bleary-eyed returnee parents seeking childcare for our two oldest in the still drying out terrain of the Crescent City, my wife and I first met Ms. Lynne at CDP (Child Development Program on Claiborne Ave) 10 years ago and have had the privilege of having all four of our children spend their preschool experience with her. Reflecting on this recently, and being reminded of the 2016 market, I wanted to share a little insight to her world and the contributions she makes to our community. So we did a little Q & A:
JPV: How did you arrive at making the Saturday sale happen? What inspired it?
LH: I have a Chicken Soup for Little Souls book called The Goodness Gorillas that is a favorite for me and the kids. In it, the children in a school classroom are introduced to the concept of “guerilla goodness” which involves random acts of kindness. They form their own club called the Goodness Gorillas in order to perform these random acts of kindness and we decided to form the Sunshine Squad to do the same. Our Farmer’s Market provides an opportunity to take pride in the vegetables that we have grown from seeds and also to allow the Sunshine Squad to donate our profits to charity and feel what it’s like to help those in need.
JPV: What does the Sunshine School mean to you, and how did it all start?
LH: I actually had the epiphany of the idea of having a school in my home one night while I was not sleeping! I realized that it fulfilled my dream of having my own school as well as my belief that this kind of small, cozy, family-style learning environment would be ideal for preschool-aged children. Everything sort of fell into place as if it was meant to be! Over the last almost four years, I have observed countless examples that support the success of learning in a small group and in a calm, nurturing environment. Having my own school has increased my love of teaching preschool, which was already my passion! You know that you love it when you can do it for 20 years and still be happy to go to work!
JPV: As a seasoned parent, I love the rituals. Please give some insight into where some come from. Like where does the song The Earth Goes Round the Sun come from? Or the annual carnival with the strong person feats or the shrinking / growing machine?
LH: I love ritual too, and I think it enables children to remember school experiences and to cherish those memories. Our birthday ritual comes from [my daughter] Julia’s Montessori preschool back when she was 4 years old! I was so taken by how it allowed the birthday child to celebrate their life as well as teach a concrete example of the passage of time by having the child hold the earth and go around a candle sun. I’ve been doing it in my classroom ever since! The circus was a wacky idea that my teaching partner Ms. Nita and I came up with. We liked it because it was a fun topic, but also because we believed strongly in trying to get children to be comfortable in a performance situation.
JPV: When you aren’t Sunshine School-ing, one might find you doing what?
LH: In my free time I like to garden, cook, craft, and read. My favorite recreational activity is being a member of the Dragons of New Orleans and building dragon costumes to wear when we march in the Tucks parade.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.