After 30 years, beloved early childhood educator Mrs. Serba planning her final graduation
Pam Serba has spent her professional life helping raise Eagle’s kids.
That often-quoted saying about how it takes a village to raise a child refers to people like her. From the time they arrive at Mrs. Serba’s doorstep as 3-year-olds with tenuous toilet training skills to the moment they participate in a graduation performance as 4-year-olds ready to tackle kindergarten, the youngsters in her care have been showered with kindness and affection for three decades.
“I can’t imagine anything better than spending your life with brand-new human beings,” Serba said. “You are challenged to look at the work through their innocent eyes.”
Serba estimates she has worked with more than 500 local kids during her 30-year career, but this spring’s class will be her final one. She is retiring later this month after three decades of early childhood work. She signaled that move to her current families a year ago when she didn’t take on a new crew of 3-years-olds in the fall. For decades the schedule at her home-based school featured first-year younger students on Tuesdays and Thursdays and second-year older kids on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Serba didn’t want to start working with a group of 3-year-olds if she wouldn’t be around for their 4-year-old term. That illustrates something essential about Serba — the children always, always come first.
“Every time I visited her program it was clear how happy and well cared for all the children were. I imagine some of those children are now grown with children of their own,” said Eagle County Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. Before she was elected to her current post, McQueeney served as the director of Early Childhood Partners.
“We know that high quality care provides the foundation for learning that dramatically shapes a child’s future education and life experiences. Generations of children should be grateful for the care Pam provided that gave them an excellent start in life,” McQueeney said.
Destined to do this
As she reflects on her early childhood career, Serba truly believes it was her destiny. She isn’t the only one. When she first opened her home-based school, she showed her father the informational brochure she had developed for her facility. “He said, ‘When you were a little girl, you always told me you were going to have your own school.’”
Serba and her husband Steve and sons Steve Jr. and Calder arrived in Eagle back in 1991. They had been living in Southern California, but Steve Sr. had always dreamed of moving to Colorado.
“He wanted to raise his boys in the mountains. It was a good decision,” Serba said.
Steve took a job on the Interstate 70 Glenwood Canyon construction project and later worked for B&B Excavating. For the past 10 years, he has worked for ECO Transit.
Back in her home state, Serba was working at a computer company when she met her husband-to-be.
“But I had worked at a preschool in my early 20s, it was just hard to earn enough money to support myself as a single woman,” Serba said. “Once I got married and had my own children, it was my opportunity do something I loved.”
She initially cared for children in her home and then joined with Eagle residents Kathy Lewis and Cindy Legace to open Saint Mary’s Preschool. At the same time, Serba’s family welcomed their third son, Conner. She toted him along when she went to work at the preschool.
Serba remained at Saint Mary’s for nine years but when the family decided to build a home in The Terrace neighborhood, she had something special in mind. She always wanted to open her own school in her own home and here was her chance. The Serba house’s entire garden level basement is devoted to her school in two expansive bright rooms lined with windows. One room has a linoleum floor so things can get a little messy. The other features a cozy reading corner and a little playhouse. As parents and students trek downstairs, they can look at posters that feature pictures and artwork from previous classes. It’s a space that radiates the love Serba dispenses from it.
“When you are with children, there is none of that ugliness,” she said. “Yes, at that age, kids are very egocentric. But they are also very open to learning a nicer way to be around friends.”
Serba has helped children find that nicer way.
“By the time they go to kindergarten, they are ready to be in a space with others,” she said. “My focus was always on creating a bond in the classroom.”
Reading stories to children is Serba’s very favorite activity.
“We would usually act it out,” she added. “We would let the silliness go and I love the conversations we have had over the years.”
Every day, rain or shine, Serba and her young charges would trek to the Terrace Park to play for a bit. It was a block-long walk and a daily opportunity for adventure.
“I remember sitting with a little boy one day who saw this big crow. I said we should talk to it,” Serba recalled. They both crowed at the bird, who answered and eventually became brave enough to hop over to them. The pair ended up dodging under a table when the bird got a little too close.
That spirit of fun is a hallmark of Serba’s style.
“She was never intimidating to the kids because she is so short. She is like one of them so they would go ‘I’m good here,’” said Jon Stavney, who’s son Holden attended Serba’s school. Holden is now in his 20s, but the Stavneys fondly remember his preschool days.
“She was wonderful. She really cares about kids and their early development. She was just lovely about welcoming kids into her house,” Stavney said.
Meghan Wilson’s sons Charlie and Benny both attended Serba’s school. Benny is a member of her final group, set to graduate later this month.
“I think she is a blessing to the community. I feel very fortunate that both my boys got to go to her for preschool,” Wilson said.
Wilson recalled how she first heard about Serba’s program, several years ago when she was talking with a neighbor about sending Charlie to preschool.
“My neighbor’s kids were in their 20s, but she told me Mrs. Serba is the most amazing woman,” Wilson said. “She is so kind and she loves the children. My oldest son still talks about Mrs. Serba. We have lifelong friends from the people we met at her school.”
A loss for the community
Pam and Steve Serba’s retirement plan is taking them away from the community. It’s a hard loss.
“Leaving aside the fact that we have a shortage of childcare for our community and cannot afford to lose her program, Pam will be missed for much more than the spaces she provides for care,” McQueeney said. “She will be missed for her caring heart, wisdom and experience.”
Along with all the children’s lives she touched during her 30-year career, Serba also affected kids who weren’t directly under her care.
“Back when I was director of Early Childhood Partners, we contracted with her to be a consultant to other family child care providers,” McQueeny said. “We had discovered that center directors wanted to learn from other center directors, and family child care directors really wanted to hear from and work with other family child care directors. We were fortunate to have Pam’s expertise to lean on.”
One of her best pieces of advice? Learn to let go.
“What I control is setting up the space. There is a schedule. But I have to be open to those moments when the children are needing something more or needing to go in a different direction,” Serba said. “ You just have to be flexible.”
That includes everything from storytime selections to parent performances.
“For the end of the year program, one time the kids kept forgetting their lines. I told everyone the program was perfect in its imperfections,” she said. “That’s the attitude you have to have. The children bring me a lot of joy and their spirits are always playful.”
When Serba finishes up the term with her final class, she will be packing up more than her classroom. She and her husband plan to retire in Las Vegas, where family members live. She ruefully noted that when she and Steve drove by Las Vegas on a trip when they were dating, he made a disparaging remark about the famed Vegas Strip.
“I thought ‘Wow! This is the man for me,’” she said. “How ironic that we are now moving to Vegas.”
In addition to the pull of family, Serba said she is looking forward to living in a warmer climate.
“I want to live someplace where you can wear your flip-flops all day long,” she said.
She will miss the Eagle community, which supported the Serbas as they raised their own sons and during a medical emergency that Steve experienced. As for their now grown children, Steve Jr. is working as an electrician and both Calder and Conner served in the U.S. Military. The two younger Serbas are currently deployed in Africa. Serba is the proud grandmother of two grandsons with a third grandchild on the way.
What: Current and former families from Pam Serba’s preschool are welcome to attend a potluck celebration in her honor. Please bring a side dish to share.
When: Sunday, May 23, at 11 a.m.
Where: The Terrace Park in Eagle
As she contemplates a goodbye party planned in her honor, Serba is both grateful for the kindness and slightly embarrassed by the fuss. She is looking forward to seeing both current and past families at the event.
“We want to show this woman some love,” Wilson said. “I think it would be an amazing send off to her.”
Serba does love seeing former students around town. She noted last spring, when everything was closed down because of COVID-19 and life was a bit glum, she and her husband were out walking near the cemetery. They noticed a young man who was cleaning up the area who kept glancing at them.
“Pretty soon he said, ‘Mrs. Serba?’” she recalls. “For an instant I didn’t know who it was and then it came to me. We talked and I found out he was graduating from high school that year. To see that face call out from my past, it was a lovely moment.”
Her final day in the classroom will be Wednesday, May 26. Serba and her families will likely share some bittersweet tears that day as a woman who has touched so many young lives closes her Eagle chapter.
“I will miss this part of my life. It’s been an absolute blessing. I can’t imagine spending my life with any better people,” Serba concluded.