Cathy Craddock For 26 years, Cathy Craddock has taught some of the youngest “scholars” in the Harvard community: preschoolers who attend the Oxford Street Day Care Cooperative, one of six Harvard-affiliated day-care centers.

Working for so many years – let alone generations – is “unheard of for day care,” says Craddock. She credits her longevity to the cooperative nature of Oxford Street, where parents work alongside teachers for four-and-a-half hours each week. “It’s a huge commitment,” she acknowledges. “There’s a real sense of community, and with that comes a respect for each other. You don’t get that at other day-care centers.”

After earning a master’s in education from Boston College, Craddock worked for an after-school program in Brookline before arriving at Oxford Street in the center’s early days. “When I started I was younger than the parents, and then there was a long stretch when I was peers with them. And now I’m kind of the matron. It feels good to have this knowledge,” she says.

Craddock teaches 4-year-olds, engaging them with activities that range from reading books and “artsy-crafty stuff” to studying bugs, caterpillars, and butterflies (a shipment of larvae just arrived in the mail). “I love this age group,” she says. “They walk this balance beam through life. If they fall to one side, they want to be their parents’ babies again. And the other side is ‘Leave me alone, I know how to do everything, I’ll do it myself, thank you.’ It’s a joy to watch them grow up.

“My day can be anything from wiping up spilled yogurt – or worse – at lunch to watching a kid tie her shoe for the first time,” says Craddock. After two-and-a-half decades of spilled yogurt, Craddock still gets excited by her work. “You get these little things so you know you’re appreciated,” she says. For example, “when a really challenging kid – say, someone who has a quick burner, who gets angry quickly – is having a hard day, and you’re working so hard to keep him safe, and keep the other kids safe. You’re just about ready to pack it in because you’ve tried everything and nothing works. And then you get a smile and a big hug. It’s the little stuff that keeps you coming back.”

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