I first arrived at Litchfield Montessori School as a parent in 2007. Both of my boys had been enrolled in a Montessori school since age three. When my husband and I made the decision to move our family to Connecticut, the first factor in determining our exact location was the proximity of an accredited Montessori school. The Litchfield Montessori community embraced us and I joined the faculty the following year as Susan Shea’s assistant in Children’s House, becoming a directress in 2011.
I come from a background of educators, including my mother and many aunts and uncles, so it felt natural for me to pursue my Masters in Education after college. I knew I enjoyed working with elementary age children and focused my internship on 4th and 5th grades. Shortly after we were married, my husband and I moved to Salinas, California, where I was hired to teach third grade in a Catholic school. I taught all subjects to 33 students in my classroom, and though I tried my best, I always felt that there were children who I was not able to reach. I kept thinking that there had to be a better way. I had not yet heard of the Montessori Method.
Two years after our first son was born we moved to Slingerlands, NY and I began thinking about pre-schools. A friend suggested that I take a look at some area Montessori schools. After a few moments observing a Children’s House classroom, I realized that this was the “better way.” I was amazed at the independence of the children, the focus of their efforts and the way in which each child was engaged in his/her own meaningful work. My life was forever changed.
It is very difficult to choose a favorite moment from my Montessori experience because tiny miracles occur daily in our classroom; a child’s joy in discovery, his elation at mastering a new skill, her delight in engaging in spontaneous cooperative work. The moment that is most fresh in my mind happened a day ago when a child rolled out his number roll for the first time since beginning the work over a week before. As the paper stretched from wall to wall, he lit up with happiness. After he rolled it back up and stored it away safely in his drawer to be continued on another day, he said to no one in particular, “I am just so proud of myself!” To me, that is the most beautiful gift of a Montessori education
As an Olympic athlete, I realize the power of inner drive and motivation. Self-esteem is not a gift that one person can bestow upon another, but is built from within. Though I was not fortunate enough to have a Montessori education, my parents did embrace the philosophy of allowing me to challenge myself and to take risks. In 1978, at age six, I became the first girl to play ice hockey in our local youth organization in Glastonbury, Connecticut. This caused a bit of unrest for some as little girls in the seventies certainly didn’t play physical sports like hockey. However, my parents supported my initiative. Along the way there were some bumps and bruises, unkind words and occasionally, unkind actions. However, by offering their support, not their solutions or interference, my parents allowed me to work through the challenges that came along. They empowered me to persist through the trials and tribulations that accompany a life spent in pursuit of dreams. In 1998 I achieved my ultimate goal of not only competing on the first ever U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team, but winning a gold medal. Having spent much of my young life working towards such a lofty goal makes me appreciate the tiny miracles happening in my classroom each and every day as each child makes his or her way toward their own destiny.
BTW, our humble Directress Gretchen was not only on the winning U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team, but she scored the winning goal!
Above Gretchen is pictured with her Olympic medal.