One by one, the children approached her. Some stopped for hug, while others were content to just wave their hands and smile. And while they were all gathered for her, she was there just as much for them.
Catherine Scott-Kem has been has a teacher at Crofton Nursery School since 1992. On Wednesday, students and their families got together at Bell Branch Park to celebrate Scott-Kem's 20 years of service.
"She really does have a gift. She's phenomenal with them," said Laura Tarnosky, who has sent four children to Crofton Nursery School, three of whom were taught by Scott-Kem.
Previously a stay-at-home mother of two, Scott-Kem wondered if she was viable in the teaching world. After applying to five different nursery schools—and being offered jobs by all five—Scott-Kem chose Crofton Nursery School.
"I was intrigued by Crofton Nursery School because it was a [cooperative school] and it was a two-day. I started in the 3-year-old program and I felt like I could teach two days a week and still be a full-time mother to my two children," she said.
But her children are all grown up now.
"It doesn't seem like 20 years, [but] life is a journey," said Scott-Kem. "Yesterday, my daughter had a birthday and I thought, 'Wow, she was just in third grade when I started teaching. She's now a well-traveled adult.' "
It's those same motherly traits that she takes with her every day to work.
"Catherine was an exemplary teacher and still is I'm sure. She loves those kids," said Cheryl Shoots, who taught at Crofton Nursery School with Scott-Kem for five years.
After 15 years of teaching the 3-year-olds, Scott-Kem has spent the last five with the 4-year-old students.
Outside of the nursery school, Scott-Kem is also a swimming coach with the Naval Academy Aquatics club and the Davidsonville swim team. She's been working with swimmers since she was 15 years old.
"I've touched a lot of lives and they've touched mine—each and every one of them in their own special and unique way. I'm very fortunate," she said.
This past year has been difficult for Scott-Kem, whose husband took a job in Chicago.
"They've been hugely supportive of this year of transition and change in my life," Scott-Kem said of the school families.
It's that kind of support that gives Scott-Kem assurance about her future with Crofton Nursery School.
"I just told them recently that I'm here to stay," she said. "I have my health. I'm active, I feel good [and] I have the energy. I have the love and desire. I'll go as long as I have those factors."
And Crofton will be glad to have its unofficial mother around as long as it can.
For more information about Crofton Nursery School, please visit www.croftonnurseryschool.com.