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It’s child’s play for ‘Aunt’ Penny

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Dedicated: Penny Saltus has worked with children for 33 years

Penny Saltus cannot walk down the street without hearing a child singing out: “Hi, Aunt Penny!”

Children call it from bus windows, in the street, in the grocery store. A hug often follows.

In the past 33 years, Ms Saltus has worked with hundreds of young people — as a foster mother, nursery teacher and reading tutor.

“When we go out, my daughter Jazmyne often says, ‘Gosh mummy, you know everyone’,” said the 54-year-old.

She drew on those resources in planning The Early Childhood Symposium. Tomorrow’s event includes information on everything from different learning styles, to language and literacy.

Straight out of high school, Ms Saltus was working as a secretary when a friend suggested she consider a career change.

The friend was right. Penny loved children and always had a niece, nephew or godchild with her.

She became a nanny for two families and signed up at the Bermuda College.

“They supported my education,” she said. “I had to go right back to school and start from scratch.”

In 1996, she was working as an aide for Child & Family Services when she had another epiphany.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I could do so much more for children if I just went home and fostered’,” she said.

She took in children from newborn, to age eight. The first came shortly after Jazmyne was born.

“I was a single mom, but it wasn’t stressful having two babies to care for,” she said. “I love children. I had a home nursery for a little while.”

It was, however, hard to say goodbye after two months with him.

“I tell parents who sign up for foster care, you will cry your eyes out when the first one leaves,” she said. “The next one gets easier, because you understand they aren’t yours to keep.

“You are providing a temporary safe place for them to be until the environment they came out of is stable or they move on to a long-term placement.”

When her daughter went to nursery, she continued to foster, but went back into the workforce.

In 2006, she went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in child development. Seven years later she was head teacher at Woodrose Nursery School and having a hard time finding “quality staff”.

“Many job applicants would struggle through the interview process,” she said. “They weren’t able to promote themselves, or to speak or write effectively. There would be spelling mistakes on the job application.

“A lot of that is tied to what happens in early childhood. Somewhere along the way something had broken down for a lot of the applicants.”

It is one of the reasons she trained to become a tutor at the Reading Clinic in 2015.

“I help dyslexic children with their reading and writing skills,” she said. “It is a job I really love.”

But she is becoming more and more concerned by what she sees as a rise in antisocial behaviour in the community.

“I am looking at children from birth to age five and wondering how do we best give them the opportunities that will prevent them from going down that road of antisocial behaviour when they get to the young adult years,” she said.

She feels it is not that a lot of young children are neglected, but that their parents do not have adequate resources.

“You might tell a parent not to spank their child,” she said. “Then what? What else do they do? That is the piece that is missing. What happens when your son won’t eat his dinner?

“I was fortunate that when my daughter was young I worked at the Child Development Programme. I always had access to information and resources. A lot of parents don’t.”

Tomorrow’s symposium was organised to remedy that problem.

“It has been an exciting career and has had its challenges, but I think we are now at a point where we have to do more for children between birth and five and try to be a proactive community rather than a reactive community,” she said.

Join Ms Saltus at the Bermuda College from 9am to 1pm.

To register, e-mail: psaltus69@gmail.com.

Penny Saltus reading to children (Photo supplied)
Penny Saltus reading to children (Photo supplied)