After 7 years at The New Century School, primary teacher Catherine Lawson, of the Pear Tree classroom, is embarking on an exciting new life chapter and is consequently moving from the area. Of course, it’s not unusual that teachers come and go, as life changes—changes of locale, growing families, continuing education, etc.—dictate, but what makes this particular departure so significant is that Mrs. Lawson was one of the handful of teachers who opened the school in its current location back in August 2010 and, with Adriana Duprau, is one of only two who remained from that original group, as of the 2016–2017 school year. The other original teachers were Angela Lazarony (primary); Raquel Alvarez (toddler Spanish immersion); Zhihong “Jewel” Xie (toddler Chinese immersion); Jenny Miller, now DeFusco (art teacher); and Valerie Lim (Admissions Director). Back then, the student body comprised only about 50 children from ages 2 to 6 years.
Needless to say, this will be an emotional goodbye for Mrs. Lawson, for her fellow teachers and staff, her past and present students, and their families. Being a Montessori teacher, she taught many TNCS youngsters for 3 years during an especially formative time in their development. She knows them well, and she is very dear to them.
Immersed got the chance to chat with Mrs. Lawson to reminisce a bit and give her the opportunity to tell her story. Here is a transcript of that conversation.
Immersed: What was that first year like, here at TNCS?
Mrs. Lawson: It was a little crazy [smiling], because all of our materials were out in trailers in the back. We had just the empty building. During set-up week, we moved all of the materials into our classrooms.
Immersed: How long did it take you to get in the groove?
Mrs. Lawson: We found our groove pretty quickly. As a group, we all started working really well together, and so we were able to figure out the logistics. We worked as a team—that was the big thing. When we didn’t know what to do in a given situation, we would go to each other and work it out together. We were a really strong team.
Immersed: Can you tell us about the event that precipitated your move?
Mrs. Lawson: I inherited a house sitting on 3 1/2 acres in Vienna, VA from my aunt and uncle! It’s well located—only 5 minutes from anything—but, at the same time, it’s in the woods, so it’s nice and private. We have lots of wildlife there, like deer, fox, chipmunks, squirrels, and birds like bluebirds and big woodpeckers.
Immersed: Will you continue working in some capacity?
Mrs. Lawson: Oh yes—I plan to continue teaching, but with moving and all that entails plus closing the year out here, I haven’t begun to look for a position yet. My goal is to be in the house by July 1st. My last day here at school is June 16th.
Immersed: How long have you been teaching, and have you always been a Montessori teacher?
Mrs. Lawson: I have always been a Montessori teacher. I was getting a degree in preschool education in Massachusetts and realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do. My sister-in-law, who was a secretary at Julia Brown Montessori in Silver Spring, MD, urged me to come visit. So over winter break I did, and fell in love. That summer, I attended a 10-week training program and discovered how intense the preparation really is, in terms of interning and compiling albums of all the lesson plans (nowadays they just give teachers the albums already made). And, in the state of Maryland, a college degree is required to teach Montessori. I finished my senior year of college then returned to MD, interned for 2 years, and have been teaching ever since—that was in 1990.
Immersed: Would you like to share any reflections on your time here at TNCS?
Mrs. Lawson: Oh, I’m definitely going to miss the kids. One of the things that’s really wonderful about working in the school as long as I’ve been here is being able to watch them over the years, many of them from age 2, growing and maturing and becoming their own people. I also love to see the families grow, with the the second child in a family coming through my classroom and maybe even a third. But the best is watching the individual child grow and mature. Like, the other day, Mr. McGonigal’s [2nd- and 3rd-grade] students came to read my students, and some of them had been my former students! I remember teaching them their letter sounds, and here they are reading fluently to my current students who are just now beginning to learn their letter sounds. It was so cool to watch. . . seeing who these children are turning out to be. I guess the hardest part for me is not knowing what they’re ultimately going to become. That’s going to be hard, especially having been with them for so long.
Immersed: Do you anticipate being able to visit?
Mrs. Lawson: Oh yes! I’ve kept in touch with some of my former students who are now graduating high school via Facebook and hope to do the same with my TNCS students. That’s fun.
Immersed: How have you seen TNCS evolve over the years?
Mrs. Lawson: When I started here, we had a Chinese and a Spanish toddler class, three primary classes, and an elementary. Now, we have two Spanish and one Chinese toddler classrooms, four primary classrooms, a 2nd-/3rd-grade classroom, and a 4th-/5th/6th-grade classroom. That’s a big expansion. Also, the Chinese and the Spanish language learning has evolved—we used to have just one teacher of each language to cover everything. Now we have big populations of Spanish and Chinese staff members. This means that the children can really be immersed because they are being spoken to in these languages continuously throughout the day, not just in blocks. In Professor Manuel’s K/1st class, he speaks full Spanish, for example, so at that level, the students are really getting it. I have worked at schools that taught Spanish or French for 45 minutes a day before, but I’ve never experienced anything like this level of immersion.
Immersed: Do you have any closing thoughts to convey? [Cue tears.]
Mrs. Lawson: I really love The New Century School. The staff and the families are like no other. The love and support of the families and the staff are like no other. This is the eighth school that I’ve worked in, in my life, and for the first time I really feel like I’m leaving family. When I have needed support this year, everyone has stepped in and done anything they could to help me, to make me feel supported.
On behalf of the TNCS community, Mrs. Lawson, Immersed would like to say that your ninth school will be very lucky to have you. Although you will be dearly missed, we hope that your next chapter is the best one yet!