Primary school teacher Cecelia Snyder assists Maria Kozlowski as she puzzles where to place the lungs and other organs in her rubber figure. Snyder is retiring after teaching 3-6-year-old children at Old Town Montessori on S. Columbus Street for 20 years.
Photo by Shirley Ruhe.
Gordon Tracy rushes into the room and thrusts a large bouquet of pink roses and baby's breath into the hands of a surprised Cecelia Snyder. After 20 years of teaching 3-6-year-olds at the Old Town Montessori School on S. Columbus Street and serving as its administrative director, Snyder is retiring. This is her last official day of teaching.
"It is hard to go after all of this time,” Snyder said. “On the other hand, my husband retired last year from his ‘real job’ as a patent lawyer for the State Department and we are moving to Lake Canandaigua in Upper New York State. It was named “the chosen spot” by the Natives. Prior to Old Town Montessori, Snyder had spent 20 years teaching in a Montessori school in Annandale and served as a part-time staff member at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria as coordinator of Children’s Ministries.
A boy places an empty wooden puzzle frame on a rug he has unrolled on the floor and begins putting the puzzle pieces in places for the provinces of Canada. Starting with the Pacific side orange for British Columbia, brown for Alberta and green for Saskatchewan. “All right, are you ready for another one?" Rugs are spread out across the wooden floor with activities.
Children in blue shorts, white shirts with Old Town Montessori and their indoor shoes are concentrating on a variety of activities. Everyone is busy with a project. "You have that upside down," Snyder said. "The lung has to go in the other way." Maria Kozlowski pauses for a moment and snaps the organ into place. "Now there is a trick," Snyder said, "You put the liver in first; then you tuck the stomach in. There, well done."
“Victor, get your work.” Everyone is working. “We call it work in Montessori,” she said. “Playing is what you do on the playground but work is what we do in the classroom. It is important; they try and we respect their efforts.” Snyder says some of the children will do the same thing over and over. “I had one boy who did the same thing all day for three days. My eye was twitching. But once he had mastered it, it he put it back on the shelf and never did it again.”
She says she always wonders whether the child who works with the horses will grow up to be the vet or the one who works with the human body will grow up to be the surgeon. “We have so many different little lights in that room. It is always wonderful to see how they grow and what they become. I’ve had some surprises.”
The children will work at different activities until 11:30 a.m. when the half-day students will go to the playground. The 5-6-year-olds who are there until 3 p.m. will have a picture book and lunch. Snyder says the older ones have French and yoga once a week. Meanwhile Campbell Nguyen has decided it is time for a snack. She pulls out a picture card from the file box and takes it to a place at the table with a container of applesauce. "They have the sidewalk café mentality. Eat your snack and watch passers-by," Snyder said.
Snyder says some of her current parents were formerly her students. Last night some of the parents had a little get together for her and invited some former parents. “One of these parents had attended with her brother and sister years ago. She called the school and asked whether the Mrs. Snyder they had — could her maiden name be Stump. When she found out I was the same person, I got her daughter in my class."
"O.K. 1-2-3-4. We need to do another one. How about if we do ‘hat?’” A rug is spread out and covered with a spelling mat and a box of blue and red letters. Snyder leans over. "H-h-h ahhhh t-t." The letters appear on the mat under several other attempts at words such as jet, mo, pas and fox. Snyder says some of the guys really enjoy drawing birds and write on the back of the card what the birds eat and where they live. “And we have the tape from the Cornell Lab with the bird songs so they can listen. We nurture each child’s gifts and talents at his or her own pace following the child instead of setting artificial boundaries and goals.”
Snyder says that since the Montessori model is universal as a prepared environment for children, that trends don’t affect the education much and they don’t have any computers in the classroom. But “we have something unique in our area where our children are witness to living history. George Washington’s home is one of the houses down the block. They have a different perspective here.” This is a day like all others at Montessori but it is her last.