Fun-sized lessons: for 42 years and counting, Sandy Townsend builds character, community, and joy at St. Andrew Catholic School
Sandy Townsend agreed to help for one year by teaching pre-K students at St. Andrew Catholic School. With any luck, the next year she hoped to teach third grade — her favorite grade from her past experience teaching second, third, and fourth grades in other schools.
That was 1980. Now, 42 years later, she’s still singing, crafting, and playing games with the four-year-olds.
She said, “I love it. I’ll do it as long as they let me. I won’t retire until they make me.”
For someone with such deep roots at St. Andrew now, it’s a bit of a miracle that Townsend was ever planted at the Fort Worth school.
Growing up the third of eight children in Milwaukee, she planned to be a flight attendant, but her father persuaded her to try college for two years. Because she attended Catholic schools through grade 12, she chose to continue her education at a Catholic university.
Many Catholic universities, including Marquette, were nearby, but Townsend wanted to test her independence and enrolled 1,000 miles away from home at University of Dallas, where she studied elementary education.
It was there she met her future husband, Buddy, up from Texas A&M University for a blind date (she was initially matched with his friend). After she married the young soldier, she taught in Virginia, Korea, and Bryan, Texas. He was discharged from the U.S. Army and eventually took a job at General Dynamics, which brought the young family to Fort Worth.
For Townsend, employment at St. Andrew was a bit of a scouting expedition, as she wanted to have full knowledge and trust in the school where she would send her daughter and two sons.
Little did she know she would have such a lasting and significant impact — an impact that goes beyond the pre-K classroom into the entire school.
Kristen McAdoo, who taught pre-K with Townsend for 16 years, said Townsend builds community within the faculty with her generous, selfless nature.
For example, she opens her home and hosts a meal at the beginning and end of each school year for the faculty and staff, and she creates games to play and provides prizes at teachers’ meetings. Not to mention the massive candy jar in the teachers’ lounge, which Townsend fills every week.
“God is her center, and everything just flows from there,” explained McAdoo. “It goes into her teaching; it comes through in everything she does, how she relates to others.”
Before Melissa Kasmeier was associate superintendent of Catholic Schools, she was principal of St. Andrew and quickly came to treasure Townsend.
Kasmeier said, “She has the gift of bringing joy to others in every encounter. All the students remember and love her, and she’s incredibly supportive of all the teachers. Her loving, joyful presence makes a tremendous impact on the school, the students, and their families.”
FUN AND GAMES
As a gift to the fellow faculty and to maintain relationships with her former students, she gives each teacher a break. On her days off, she will come to their class with a bag full of prizes and play games with the students for an hour in April or May.
“That’s one of the greatest times for me, because I get to see them grow up,” Townsend said.
Measured over the course of an entire school year, an hour of games is a blink of an eye, but the students cherish the experience.
Townsend recalled, “One year, walking across the courtyard at the beginning of the school year, a little girl stopped me and said, ‘Do you still come and play games in third grade?’
“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” and she told the student she visits every grade, every class.
“‘Oh good,’ the student said with a big sigh of relief. ‘You know, Mrs. Townsend, you can never die,’” recounted the teacher, laughing.
In fact, games aren’t limited to St. Andrew students. Nolan Catholic High School students have returned for a bingo hour with her as they prepare to graduate from high school — 13 years after she taught them.
“I do believe you can learn everything through games and having fun,” she said, such as being kind, following rules, and respecting others.
“There’s so much they learn when you’re not teaching,” she continued. “Who you are, what you say, how you say it. So much of it comes back to who we are, what God did for us.”
Teaching boils down to two essentials in Mrs. Townsend’s class: a love of God and a love of school.
On the last day of school before Christmas break, she told her class the benefits of having two weeks off — sleeping late and having plenty of free time.
A student responded, “We can’t come to school? That’s not fair.”
FAITH AND FORTITUDE
What keeps Townsend teaching for 42 years and counting? The students. She has five grandchildren, but her husband jokes that each year she gets a new set of grandkids.
“There’s a lot of joy at four,” she said, explaining the students’ outlook has helped her during difficult times, such as the death of her parents. “Their joy gets you through. It’s really hard to be sad around four-year-olds.”
She loves listening to their conversations, pulling out pearls of wisdom such as, “You can’t be the line leader if you don’t know where you’re going.”
It tugs on her heart to hear them initiate prayer for a classmate whose dog has died, or to see a student draw a letter to God to express her sorrow over a grandfather’s death.
The longtime teacher said she “puts God into everything we do” in the classroom. “In all honesty, I’m a firm believer in Catholic schools.”
As for herself, the lifelong Catholic appreciates the faith passed down from her parents, especially the Eucharist and quiet prayer during a hectic day.
Prayer, she said, “is a time to settle down. I stay so busy that it’s really good to have [prayer] every night, and you start the day with ‘This is for you. Help me get through it.’”
A generous God answers her morning supplication, and her cup runneth over with joy, love, and the laughter of children.