Mary Beard holds a portrait of the old McClain Elementary School, which stood for much of the 20th century on the same site as her new Cedars Preparatory Academy.
No recess for Mary Beard as Cedars Prep educates year round.
Story and photos by KEN BECK
Mary Beard goes back to school every day loving it.
As the owner and director of Cedars Preparatory Academy, the new kid on the block of private educational institutions in Lebanon, it’s almost a case of déjà vu. Not so much like Bill Murray’s character in the film Groundhog Day, but definitely a ‘beenthere, done-that’ experience.
CPA sits on four acres of ground on West Main Street that for much of the 20th century was home to the old McClain Elementary School, where Beard, when she was known as Mary Goodall to her classmates, attended grades two through six. Today, a 12,000 square-foot, one-floor, brick building with 10 classrooms occupies the site. It is the same structure in which she introduced McClain Christian Academy in 1998. But that was then, and this is now, and this is CPA, preschool through third grade.
“My goal is to provide the best primary education in the county,” says Beard. “We educate the whole child—the head, the hands and the heart.”
Among the characteristics that make CPA unique is the fact that it presents two different services: the traditional 180 school-day year (to match the city school schedule) as well as a year-round slate of 277 school days. “I found a lot of women who were flustered about what to do when it came to snow days, summer break and fall school break. They were having to use their vacation time or scramble around and find somebody to keep the kids,” Beard said.
“What I heard often was, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to find a competent place year round, all in one building,’ and I kept thinking about that when creating the new school. I knew there was such a market for this. I have got something that will help working moms and stay-at-home moms.”
Beard holds strong opinions on contemporary education based on her 26 years of experience as a teacher and administrator and a parent of two sons, a stepson and stepdaughter.
There are a number of obvious differences between today and that morning in the mid- 1960s when she walked into her first-grade classroom.
“Families are so busy now with so many outside interests that they don’t have time together. So they don’t focus on the children. Parents are not allowing kids to be kids anymore,” she says.
“I appreciate a world where it’s OK to be a kid. I have tried to create an environment where there are no outside influences.
“I think the public schools are hindered by TCAP tests and not allowing kids to enjoy being kids. We actually plant seeds here and have a garden, and we cook once a week in the kitchen.”
So the obvious question some parents might ask is will their 5-year-old be bored once they leave these halls and enter in the public school system.
“I have found the children I taught were excellent from the get-go (once they entered public schools) because I taught critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” answers Beard.
“Their teachers said they could hand pick my students because, one, they have good manners; two: they could follow through with the task at hand; and three, they enjoyed being a child.”
Cedars Preparatory Academy offers a variety of learning selections that include tutoring, art, music, gymnastics, tumbling, dance and summer camp. It also features after-school care, and in the fall will begin an 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday- Wednesday-Friday option. Costs for the preschool classes average about $30 a day.
The CPA staff includes the following: Brittany Allen, a Tennessee Tech grad, who teaches pre-school classes. Julie Elmore, with more than 38 years experience, will tutor grades kindergarten through 12 in all subjects. She also will be available to tutor home-school groups. Sue Coble, who taught for 28 years at Mc- Clain and Byars Dowdy elementary schools and holds degrees from Louisiana College and George Peabody College, instructs the preschool students in music and teaches music and piano lessons for all ages after school. “I like for the children to have an appreciation for the American folk songs and great composers, the different types of music that they will not hear over the radio,” Coble said. “We use a lot of rhythm instruments, such as tambourines and triangles, to develop their sense of a steady beat and rhythm and pitch.”
Gymnastics, tumbling and dance will be taught by Cayla Armistead, a recent grad of Tennessee Tech with 10 years of teaching experience.
Lebanon native and commercial artist Lisa Morse will instruct art classes to CPA students and offer private workshops and classes for ages 6 to adult. “My teaching methods promote creativity and teach students how to access the right side of the brain,” said Morse. “I really enjoy seeing students learn the process and not being so concerned with the end results. Everybody can create art.”
Meanwhile summer camp continues for ages 6 to 12 with the following one-week sessions: June 28-July 2: Beach Week, July 5-9: Around the World in 5 Days, July 12-16: Wild West, July 19- 23: Amazing Heroes and July 26-30: Survivor.
Beard, who was in the first graduating class (1977) of Friendship Christian School, was born and raised with two sisters in Lebanon to parents Walter and Zuelma (Simpson) Goodall. Her father, a retired soil conservationist, recently was inducted into the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Earning education degrees from Blue Mountain College and Mississippi College, Beard and her husband, Ritchie Beard, a engineer for Aclara Technologies, share four children, James, John, Lindsay and Ritchie. Her hobbies include traveling and spending time with family.
Beard taught grades K-8 for 10 years in Tippah County, Miss., and returned home in 1991 to teach junior high science for a year at FCS.
“Mainly, I moved back because my mother and daddy were here, and I was a single mom, and I needed my Daddy to be a good role model (her sons were 7 and 9 at the time),” she said.
She entered educational administration by circumstance. “I was needing to buy a house, and my realtors, Todd and Bonnie Tressler, said, “We’ve got a home perfect for you.” It has a school in the basement. I thought it was perfect for a single mom,” Beard noted.
Thus, she purchased the house owned by Edna Bennett, a fondly remembered teacher who for years taught hundreds of Lebanon youngsters in the basement of her home. Beard continued Bennett’s tradition for six years, but then built a new structure on West Main in 1998 where she birthed McClain Christian Academy. She later sold the school and began business consulting.
“I loved doing business consulting, but I wanted to do something that I was good at and loved. I was at my best working with smaller kids. I own the property, and after the building sat empty for a year (up for sale), I took that as a sign. I felt this was where I needed to be and that was it,” said Beard.
“Not many people get a second chance to recreate their dream. So I get to tweak it and make it run stronger and better this time,” said Beard, who also serves as education chair for the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce.
Cedars Preparatory Academy
Year Round and Traditional Preschool through 3rd Grade
410 W. Main St., Lebanon
Ken Beck can be contacted at KBTAG@aol.com.