At age 16, Audrey Singleton found herself working in a dental office in her hometown of McIntosh County. She believed that as a nurturer, this was a good fit and an obvious career path for her.
Her pursuit of dentistry led her to Armstrong State College, where she obtained a degree in health science and became a certified dental hygienist. She also met her future husband, Jim, at Armstrong.
The two young professionals began their careers in Savannah. In 1987, they married and put down roots in Richmond Hill.
It wasn’t until Singleton became pregnant with her first child that she began the mission to find the right child care. But she wasn’t just looking for child care. It had to be the perfect child-care facility that could pass any first-time parent’s sight, smell and sound test. After researching day-care facilities, she believed a nanny would make the most sense.
“I was heavily pregnant. Jim called me and told me to turn on the television. Barbara Walters was featuring a story about a nanny mistreating a child caught on camera,” Singleton said. “I knew I couldn’t hire a nanny.”
The couple realized they wanted more sets of eyes on their son. Ultimately, this led Singleton to give up her career in dentistry and start Richmond Hill Montessori Preschool. Nicholas, Audrey Singleton’s firstborn child, was the first on the list to attend.
Richmond Hill Montessori began its journey in 1995 in Park Place Plaza. The doors opened with 35 students, including Nicholas Singleton. Tucked away in the plaza, the preschool quickly became known as one of Richmond Hill’s best-kept secrets, according to Audrey Singleton.
The school remained at that location until 2013. After several interior expansions, the preschool was landlocked. With 169 students and no more room, Singleton began exploring new location options.
With her heart set on a specific area, Singleton had closed her mind to other places in Richmond Hill. It wasn’t until her faith opened her eyes to a stretch of land on Highway 17that she began to envision what the Montessori would become. With sketch pad in hand, Singleton began drawing each room and crafting a vision that she felt would optimize success for the teachers and children.
From a bird’s-eye view, Richmond Hill Montessori is in the shape of a cross. As a woman of faith, Singleton is convinced that the larger school became reality because of her boldness in taking this step.
“We looked at the (2008) recession as an opportunity. We were full with a waiting list,” she said. “Although Richmond Hill was truly seeing the effects of the recession, I have always had huge faith in this community for what it offers. We stepped out on faith. Build it with a ‘they will come’ mindset and outlook.”
Ground was broken for the new school in 2010 on a wooded lot, and it has developed into a 20,000-square-foot facility. Multiple programs have been put in place to meet the needs of a variety of parents and children.
Singleton recently was named “One of Richmond Hill’s Greatest” by local Realtor Randy Bocook. She received a child development associate certificate in 2009, technical child-care certificate in 2013 and a diploma in early childhood care and education this month from Southeastern Technical College. She won the 2014 Georgia Child Care Association’s Industry Service and Recognition Award and 2015 Georgia Association on Young Children’s Fan Brooke Award.
Now, Singleton the mother of Nicholas, an engineering student at Georgia Southern University, and Caroline, a freshman at Richmond Hill High School, knows she is right where she was meant to be. Running a Montessori preschool is more than changing diapers and reading books. It is shaping a future generation.
Her future goals include developing Richmond Hill Montessori as a training site for child-care industry professionals and educators. She is developing partnerships with Georgia Southern, Ogeechee Technical College, Southeastern Tech and Savannah Technical College, which will soon send students majoring in family and child development to serve internships at Richmond Hill Montessori.
“Children for me represent that opportunity for growth, that opportunity for advancement. I’ve always seen this in children,” she said. “Using words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ don’t resonate with me. I refuse to put these on kids. To see them and take them as they come and build upon that relationship is special. We are putting water on a seed, if you will — they grow and flourish.”