• Frank Haight: Ultican students find a partner in fun history

  • Once a month, Mary Potter looks forward to her one-hour “kids’ fix” with third, fourth and fifth graders at Thomas Ultican Elementary School in Blue Springs.

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  • Once a month, Mary Potter looks forward to her one-hour “kids’ fix” with third, fourth and fifth graders at Thomas Ultican Elementary School in Blue Springs.
    That’s when the retired educator and former City Council member discards her hat as president of the Blue Springs Historical Society and dons the society’s leadership hat in the Blue Springs School District’s Partners in Education program.
    “I call my part of the program ‘kids fix,’ the vivacious community leader laughingly says, explaining “once you are a teacher and are involved with children, you like to stay involved with them."
    An instructor in the district for 31 years and a substitute teacher for eight years, Mary says working with the youngsters in the after-school program “makes you young. They make you think, and you want them to appreciate some of the same things you appreciate – and one of mine is history.”
    Mary knew about Partners in Education before retiring in 2001. But it wasn’t until she took the presidential reins of the Historical Society four years ago that she decided the society could participate in Partners in Education to make elementary kids aware of such nearby historical treasures as the Dillingham-Lewis Museum, 15th and Main streets.
    “Most people don’t even know it exists,” she laughingly says of the historic structure, “let alone that the Historical Society has existed here since 1976.”
    Mary selected Thomas Ultican to partner with, because of its proximity to the museum, which the Historical Society owns and uses as it headquarters.
    “The back side of the school is close to Main Street, so (the kids) walk here and then walk back (to school),” she says, accompanied by a teacher and an aide.
    Since the Historical Society and the school became partners three years ago, the program has grown from 10 participants to more than two dozen this year.
    And here’s why.
    The children know they will be doing fun things, either at the museum or inside the school cafeteria during inclement weather. In addition, cookies are always served with either apple cider, lemonade or soda pop.
    “They have come to love that,” Mary says, noting the children are hungry when they get out of school.
    There’s never a dull or boring moment during the hour that Mary is interacting with the youngsters she dearly loves.
    “We do a wide variety of things, and I select what we are going to do,” she says, explaining ideas just come to her. “I just think of things (to do), and I try sometimes to relate them to what we can do for history and tie them into the environment or community.”
    With the exception of May Day baskets, no two activities have been repeated since the program began. Making the paper baskets, filling them with fresh flowers and secretly delivering them to the homes of neighbors, Mary says, is an example of doing something nice for a neighbor the children may not know.
    Page 2 of 2 - “And they are carrying that out ... and the kids love it.”
    Says Mary: “I want the kids to understand that sometimes you do things for other people, and they may not even know who you are or that you did it for them. But they will appreciate it, and you will get something from it for having done that.”
    Mary also wants the kids to understand that May Day baskets were common years ago.
    “It was a thing you did. When I was a kid, we made May baskets all the time,” she recalls. adding: “Kids don’t do that anymore.”
    Under the watchful eyes of Mary and her volunteer helpers, the children made a book of area birds, decorated bird houses, created wooden Halloween masks, designed Christmas ornaments, painted a winter scene on a little pumpkin and more.
    With Partners in Education, Mary is striving to make the kids aware of the history in their community.
    “I taught here and was told (Blue Springs) had (no history) until I became president (of the society) and realized we have a rich history here that we haven’t spread the word on. So through students and children, you can do that.”
    Mary also wants the kids to know more about some of the things that occurred in olden days.
    Assisting her in this endeavor is Barbara Hughes, who has done research on prominent Jackson County women and does character presentations on them. Many of the presentations center around the Civil War era.
    “She came in last Thanksgiving and talked (to the kids) about Thanksgiving and added a first-person character,” Mary says. “So we want to impart part of our culture’s history to (the kids) along with the other things we do.”
    Like the Energizer Bunny, Mary just keeps on going and going, while making a difference in her beloved community.
    Says Mary: “I enjoy working with people; I enjoy saving history and what better vehicle than the Blue Springs Historical Society to do that.”
    Retired community news reporter Frank Haight writes this column. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.

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