After 34 years of serving thousands of families in the West Columbia and South Congaree communities, Miss Debbie’s Nursery School will soon be opening and closing its doors for a final time.
On Sunday, those who attended and taught at the school came back to reminisce through old photos laid out in classrooms and to enjoy a final batch of “Mr. Wayne” Shumpert’s “yellow grits,” before the school closes permanently June 5.
The school’s opening day in 1981 marked the realization of a longtime dream for Debbie Shumpert and her husband, Wayne Shumpert. Debbie Shumpert opened her first nursery school in Pine Ridge and quickly realized that her passion for teaching and children was a viable career. The Shumperts then took out a second mortgage on their house to build Miss Debbie’s on Daniel Road in West Columbia. The small school flourished. In 2002, Debbie Shumpert was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died three years later, leaving the helm of the school to her daughter, Stacey Watts.
“I am very proud we have been able to maintain the same level; I think she would be proud,” said Watts, who also attended the school. “It’s sad to close especially when you see people come in and you see the impact on their lives. We have teachers that are still with us who have been here for 30 years.”
In 2012, Watts became a certified leadership parenting coach through the John Rosemond Leadership Parenting Institute and began her own business called Happily Parenting. She will now focus the passion for teaching that was bequeathed to her by her mother on teaching other parents and child-care workers with tips on handling tantrums, homework motivation, bedtime struggles and the like. The classrooms will now house the headquarters for a construction company.
For those who attended the school’s day-care, after-school and kindergarten programs, Miss Debbie’s became more than a foundation for their future in education.
“Most of the time, I was always in trouble,” said 20-year-old Lee Simmons of Cayce. “But this place taught you how to care. Miss Debbie’s did everything and anything that was good. I would have taken my kids here.”
Simmons said even though he and his friend Matt Mills often found themselves writing essays about why whatever they did to get themselves in trouble was wrong – about 500 times, according to them – they still know that Miss Debbie’s allowed them to create lasting memories. “Miss Debbie’s is the reason I am the person I can call myself today,” Mills, of South Congaree, said while he looked through the scattered photographs that immortalized moments his childhood.
Joining the students – who are a few feet taller and few years wiser – who returned to walk through the hallways of the school were their teachers, who also couldn’t help but think about the impact the school had on their lives.
Dianne Kay taught at the school for more than 25 years and worked with Debbie Shumpert from the beginning of the school’s inception. “It’s bittersweet,” Kay said. “My kids grew up here. I have 39- and a 36-year-old and they grew up here; they loved it. It’s sad, because Debbie and I were best friends, and she had such a passion for it. She was like a second mother to the kids.”