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September 21, 2009

My Turn: A great education in the early years can make all the difference


This week's "My turn" column is by Gina Reeves, the head of school of the Brookwood School in Cooperstown.

I received my calling to teach when I was 7 years old. In 1964 my teacher, Miss Bothomley, not only taught her young charges in second grade with passion and desire, but also with a devout love of knowledge and knowing.

As one of her lucky students, it was somewhere between counting the acorns outside and watching bread rise that I learned not only math, physics, language and botany, but I also found my calling to education.

From that point forward, I have always wanted to make a difference for children.

I found that difference could be made by working with others following the same mission: one to create and grow learning environments that are inclusive of the children they are developed for, while they respect and honor a variety of learning styles.

Children, especially young children, are arriving to the educational process with a natural inquisitiveness, a basic desire to figure out the world around them and a zest to be with others.

Given the time, opportunity, a strong curriculum and wonderful teachers, they can achieve an amazing array and depth of knowledge in all of the curricular areas and in life.

Having achieved my personal goal of becoming one of those teachers who listened to, acknowledged and facilitated children in their discoveries of how it all works, I found that the real force of a quality education is being given access to what is needed to accomplish the objectives.

I hope this is true for students, parents, teachers and administrators of any school. For me, however, my next mission became finding ways to ensure that each of these groups is able to get what they need to make great learning possible.

By developing a collegial educational setting with others whose main objective is to provide a "good fit" for children in the classroom environment, I have seen outstanding individual and collective achievement take place.

I am now the head of school of The Brookwood School in Cooperstown, where this nurturing of children's intellects and spirits is developed through a Montessori approach and amazing, caring teachers.

Sometimes, in any school, finding the "good fit" for a child is in finding a terrific environment for the youngest children that will give them all of the academic skills, personal and social awareness and ability to communicate and problem-solve in the fast-paced world in which they will be competing.

This will hold them in good stead as they apply to colleges, look for jobs and put themselves out there as young adults. I think that independent schools across the country offer those things and more because we are not confined by a state-mandated curriculum and structure of learning environment.

I realize that cost is an issue, especially in our current economy, but I also continue to feel confident that the time, attention and personalization that children can receive when they are young helps them to be more confident and competent as learners and people as they get older.

In the end, that is what has happened for me. As I embark on heading my third school and work to provide an education for children that would make Miss Bothomley, and all those unique and special teachers, proud, it is my goal to make good teaching and learning possible.

As I, and so many others have seen, a great education in the early years can make all the difference.

Reeves can be reached at 547-4060 or greeves@thebrookwoodschool.org.

To write for "My turn," contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at tshalor@thedailystar.com or 432-1000, ext. 214.