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School's 'Latchkey Granny' leaving job after 3 decades

Anytime "Miss Nancy" Shockley was tempted to sleep late on a school morning the past 31 years, she had one thought to roust her out of bed: If I'm late, I make a parent late.

Shockley has made sure she's been at Harry Street Elementary School, at Harry and Market, by 6 a.m. every school day all those years to welcome latchkey students before class, and then to send them off at the end of the day.

In the in-between hours, she's been a counselor, comforter, encourager — even mother and grandmother — to her little charges.

It's breaking all their hearts that she has to retire this year.

"It was all for the kids. Always for the kids," said retired latchkey director Sharon Gleason, who worked with Shockley at Harry Street.

It was because Shockley wanted to be there to show love to a child who needed it — and to be loved.

"So many of those children need a hug in the morning. They need encouragement. I tell them, 'Have a good day,' " Shockley said Friday before overseeing lunch.

"Then when they come back at the end of the day, I ask, 'Did you have a good day? Show me your papers. Show me your grades.'

"It's kind of a family thing, and you get so attached."

Shockley, 65, has worked at Harry Street Elementary for 32 years — 31 in latchkey — and was hoping to work one more, but her position was dissolved amid budget cuts, so Tuesday will be her last day.

"Nancy's like a mom to all of us," principal Stacie Ricker said, and nobody will quite be able to replace her. "She's the kids' kind-of grandma. She's always very caring and loving and looks out for everyone — kids and adults.

"When she addresses me, it's like, 'Hey, kid,' and I don't mind. She's like a mom to me as well."

This is a particularly sad time for Shockley to retire. First of all, one of her own children died recently. Second, the person who convinced Shockley at age 33 that she could do the job is ailing. Cecil McGaugh started latchkey at Harry Street, only the second school in the district to have it, in 1980.

"These children do not realize the therapy they have been for me," Shockley said.

And nobody probably realizes just what she has done for the children.

"Some of them need to talk or cry. I listen and encourage and baby them,'' she said.

"I've even had a rocking chair in here and rocked them. They call me 'Latchkey Granny.' "

The fifth-graders often need counseling, which Shockley has provided. If students need to be corrected, "you appeal to their conscience, and they mellow. They really stop to think."

How does she do this? First she'll ask the student to look her in the eye and tell her the truth.

"I'll tell them there's nothing so bad we can't deal with it. I'll tell them, 'You're a good person,''' she said.

"I'll say, 'Did you really enjoy how you made that person feel?' They'll cry. Then they break down and tell the truth."

Babying, on the other hand, has included making the latchkey students breakfast — bacon and "pannycakes," as the children call them — before their regular breakfast at 8:30 a.m. a few times a month.

"Sometimes I make cinnamon toast," Shockley said.

Every day after morning latchkey, she has served as an aide in a first-grade class, going home after lunch for a few hours and then returning to school by 3:30 p.m. to watch over the latchkey students until their parents pick them up, by 5:30 or so.

"It's going to be hard to rearrange my day," Shockley said.

But her mother is still alive, at age 84, and keeps asking: "When is your last day?"

And she'll be back at Harry Street to volunteer.

She'll be as needed as ever.

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