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Posted: April 29, 2009 12:30 a.m.

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For the love of learning

Photo by Gabriel Khouli/

Teacher: Deana Graham works as the director of the Early Learning Center at First Presbyterian Church of Covington.

For Deana Graham the "most amazing part of teaching is being with a child when he first learns to read. It's literally like a bulb comes on." Graham loves being around children, whether they are the 80 she works with in the morning or the three of her own, to whom she devotes most of her evenings.

Graham also has a strong faith and is married to the Rev. Tim Graham, pastor of The Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal. So, it's a natural fit for her to be the director of the Early Leaning Center at the First Presbyterian Church of Covington. Graham has always been a teacher, but she stopped when she had her first child so she could focus on being a mother. It came as a welcome opportunity and "perfect fit" when she was offered the position at the ELC, because she had the opportunity to teach, work with children and still be able to spend a lot of time with her own children after school.

Graham was born in Milledgeville, but raised in Athens. She went to the University of Georgia and earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education. She taught at three different schools in and around Atlanta for 12 years while working on her master's degree in reading instruction at the University of West Georgia.

She met her husband on a blind date, and the two were married in 1999. Tim was called to a church in Raleigh, N.C., and Deana left her home state, but not for long. The two had their first child a year after being married and returned to Georgia, this time settling in Newton County, with Tim becoming the rector at Good Shepherd.

Graham was a stay-at-home mother, who was getting to know the community. She spent a lot of her time working with the church, which was ready to expand. She said she spent much of the last nine years helping build a new church, which was completed last year and sits across from the Clark's Grove neighborhood.

During this time she started teaching art classes out of her garage, which she said was "very fun." Then in 2004, a friend from First Presbyterian came to her with an idea. First Presbyterian had a mother co-op, where mothers would take care of pre-kindergarten children at the church on a rotating basis. The program worked well and the church decided to start a "full-fledged pre-K" program. Graham was hired to grow the program and that's what she's been doing for the past five years.

With the help of the church and her fellow teachers, Graham has grown the program from two small classrooms to six classrooms, 13 teachers and about 80 children. She works with the teachers to make sure lesson plans are developmentally appropriate and works with parents to help prepare their children for kindergarten and beyond. The Early Leaning Center teaches children reading, math, science, art, music and Spanish among other topics.

"It's really neat to watch the program," she said. "I'm sort of like a coach for the teachers, teaching and learning with them. I'm lucky to have people who want to keep learning and challenging themselves."

Graham said the center also focuses on the arts, teaching children to paint and build crafts. Recently, the center built an outdoor classroom to enhance the children's science education. The students study insects and plants and keep track of rainfall. Graham's job is to make sure the children receive a total education.

"I keep everyone focused on developing the total child," she said. "I make sure the children know we're learning along with them so they stay engaged."

Graham said living in a city like Covington has made her job as a teacher and mother easier, because she works with and meets so many "wonderful" people.

"I've learned the meaning of the saying ‘It takes a village.' There are more types of people here who get to touch my children's lives," she said. "There are more inter-generational relationships. Everywhere we go we have friends around. The kids are able to participate in a lot of activities around Covington; we don't have to spend a lot of time in the car."

Graham said she enjoys the mix of "life-long small-towners" and people who have come to Covington to escape the big-city life.

"The variety and richness of personalities is why she said she loves Newton County.

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