Impacting Young Lives (Daily Interlake)

Bell and Medhus’ new undertaking — Marlyn’s Center for Children & Families — is the embodiment of everything they learned about early childhood education when they took classes from Marlyn James at Flathead Valley Community College. From the layout of the preschool and infant rooms to the teaching concepts that guide their way, James’ influence and inspiration lives on at the new center.

She designed and wrote the curriculum to start FVCC’s early childhood education program and helped facilitate the idea of an early childhood center on campus. When James died unexpectedly in June 2016 from complications following brain surgery, she was eulogized as an incredible mentor who pulled the very best out of her students.

Bell and Medhus studied under James at different times, and both earned associate degrees from FVCC. They took different paths until they found themselves working together at The Nurturing Center last year.

“Marlyn planted the seed in my head I should open a facility,” Bell said.

A former cosmetologist, Bell, 28, decided to change careers after the death of a close friend. As she began contemplating what she might study, her dozen nieces and nephews influenced her decision to become a kindergarten teacher. She got a job at Woodland Montessori, then enrolled at FVCC, and through a serendipitous class mix-up got routed to James’ class.

“I ended up talking to Marlyn and she said ‘let’s have a conversation,’” Bell recalled. “She suggested I take her classes, and from that initial conversation she started inspiring me.

“She made me change my perspective, to realize how important the early years are.”

Bell worked at the Montessori school and Joyful Noise in Columbia Falls during her time at FVCC, giving her hands-on experience in care-giving.

Medhus, 28, started working at Trinity Lutheran School’s after-school program when he was just 17. After earning his degree from FVCC he went on to get his early childhood education degree from the University of Montana-Western.

“Marlyn’s influence in my life was huge,” he said. “She definitely motivated me. It transformed me into a different teacher.”

He worked with James as an adjunct instructor at FVCC for four semesters.

During their time as professional development specialists at The Nurturing Center in Kalispell, Bell and Medhus realized their early childhood education philosophies were similar; and both saw the need for quality care in the Flathead Valley.

As the two business partners tossed out ideas for a new center, they recalled conversations they’d had with their mentor. They reviewed old notes jotted down in her classes. Then they got in touch with James’ husband, Chuck James. “We wanted his blessing,” Bell added.

Chuck immediately was on board with the project. He built a sandbox, made cubbies for the children and donated toys and books.

“I think it’s really cool that she’s continuing to impact young people’s lives in a positive manner,” Chuck said. “They’re carrying on her legacy.”


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