After 30 years with Treehouse Preschool, no one knows Darla Sims by her name anymore. In fact, a grandparent wanted to mail her a card once and admitted they didn’t know her last name.
“I said, my first name is Miss and my last name is Darla,” Miss Darla said laughing.
She began work with the preschool when it resided in a building behind what is now Slightly Off Broadway Theatre. After three years, she became the assistant director. Then, three years later, she applied for the director position.
For Miss Darla, who said she believes kids are on loan from God, the key to her lasting position comes from her desire to create connections with the kids and their parents.
Over the years, parents have called her asking for advice on how to deal with the now-teenage behavior of one of her former students. They’ve asked her to come over to their house to see if a child has chickenpox.
She regularly receives invitations to weddings, graduations, baptisms and first communion.
Miss Darla said she relishes these encounters. She never wants them to end.
“I don’t just come to preschool and I work and then I’m done,” she said. “I am there for them forever.”
The kids also reach out to her. One child asked the ambulance driver to call Miss Darla after a vehicle collision. Another now-adult confided in her about the return of an illness.
Recently, a former student reached out to Miss Darla late at night because her infant would not sleep. Miss Darla stayed awake texting the new mom, telling her to stop beating herself up for not being a perfect parent. After getting some sleep, the new mom again contacted Miss Darla and said, “I just needed you.”
Developing that connection with her kids at such a young age will always be a gift to Miss Darla. She said it makes her feel her students will belong to her forever.
“I always tell them that I’m here for them forever and ever and want them to always know that I’ll love them forever,” she said.
Part of developing the connection lies in her goofy nature, she said. Describing herself as zany, Miss Darla said she tries to make learning fun. Years ago, she discovered a child will often shut down if they discover someone wants them to learn, she said. Along with her assistant teacher Jenna Olcott, Miss Darla said she helps the kids have fun while they learn. She keeps little April Fool jokes in her desk. She even performs a special act to ensure each child smiles on picture day.
Now, she said she teaches the children of some of her former students, which she describes as a compliment. She proudly tells the success stories of former students. She said she’s proud of the preschool and what it represents.
The children help Miss Darla as well. As her husband David (who often introduces himself as Mr. Darla) suffers from illnesses, she finds comfort in her kids. The kids and the fast-paced atmosphere of Treehouse distract her.
“They’re like my sanity,” she said.
After all, the kids don’t know of Miss Darla’s life outside the preschool. They’re convinced she sleeps in the building, she said.
Because she spends so much time at First United Methodist, which houses Treehouse Preschool, Miss Darla said she considers herself blessed because of what she considers her two churches, two pastors and two church families. She delivers the children’s sermon each Sunday at Orrick Christian Church ... where there also call her Miss Darla.
For now, Miss Darla will continue to be the zany Miss Darla. She said she doesn’t consider herself anything special - although many would disagree. She simply will continue to help children prepare for kindergarten in the way she said she believes God prepared her.
“I believe that God gives us gifts and I feel that the gift that he gave me is to think that (kids are) funny and think they’re cute and to think that when you get sneezed on it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “I just believe it was the talent that God gave me.”