Uncooked rice clangs inside miniature pots and children’s laughter echoes in the Gray Squirrel Room as Lisa Randerson holds a doll in her lap with a child at her side.
Randerson feels at home in the colorful room at Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, 2819 W. Richardson Place. The veteran educator has spent more than two decades teaching 2- and 3-year-olds, mostly in the Gray Squirrel Room.
Since opening in 1945, Neighborhood House has experienced many changes, but one aspect remains constant: its commitment to serving the community. During its tenure, the organization has changed the lives of more than one million children, adults and refugees in Milwaukee, according to its annual report.
Some of the more prominent offerings are after-school programs for youths, and English as a Second Language classes for adults, but the Early Childhood Services program has become a keystone of the institution.
Randerson said her major achievement has been providing an atmosphere for children conducive to fun and learning.
Her favorite part of her job is “the day-to-day opportunity to provide an environment for the children where their world can open up to everything that lies at their feet,” she said. “Instilling that sense of curiosity and that sense of wonder and watching it unfold … that’s my biggest accomplishment at Neighborhood House and as a teacher.”
Looking after a dozen energetic 2-year-olds in one room can be difficult, but Randerson finds that treating children with respect is the best way to run a classroom.
“That’s always been my guiding force ever since I stepped foot in here as a student teacher – respecting each other,” she said.
Randerson is modest about receiving the Alice Bertschy Kadish Teacher of the Year Award in 2004 from the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.
“It was humbling and I felt very grateful to be recognized,” she said. “I don’t really need the recognition beyond working with the kids and seeing the growth from them, but it was nice. It’s a good touchstone for me.”