Mary Quinto has been teaching at Clarksburg School for 11 years.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Clarksburg School prekindergarten teacher Mary Quinto has been selected as the February Teacher of the Month.
The Teacher of the Month series runs for the next three months in partnership with Berkshire Community College.
Quinto has spent her entire career working at Clarksburg School. She started as a kindergarten teacher 11 years ago.
"I love everything about teaching. It's hard to name just one thing, but I think my favorite thing is just getting to spend my days with four year old kids who are so energetic, and so full of wonder and excitement about learning about all kinds of things," Quinto said.
"And I love that in preschool, I can really make all of the learning experiences playful. We can just play and there's so many ways to turn that into the curriculum."
Quinto went back to school when she was 30 to get a bachelor's and master's degree in education.
After working as a kindergarten teacher for a year she went on to work as a fifth-grade teacher for seven.
"It was a big shift to go from fifth grade to preschool but I just love the wonder and excitement that they have. They have so many questions, and they're so interested in exploring to find the answers," Quinto said.
"There's not a single day that they don't leave me laughing or sometimes crying tears of joy from their sweetness, and they're just so fun."
The prekindergarten program was implemented at Clarksburg three years ago and Quinto was hired to run the classroom. She has been the preK teacher ever since.
Quinto is very deserving of this recognition, Principal Sandra Cody said. The students love her and she loves them.
"She's definitely a team player. She supports all the events that we have schoolwide either during the school day or after the school day," she said.
"She runs a whole group of Girls on the Run and she attends events that are happening at the school. She has a lot of fun. You can tell she enjoys her job."
It is important that kids have playful experiences because it makes learning joyful, heightens the students' interest, and makes the material stick, Quinto said.
"I think especially in preschool, it's important for them to have that foundation of play developmentally especially and it gets them ready for the more rigorous academic work that they're going to experience later on in school," she said.
She described her teaching style as child centered. She focuses on getting to know the children as individuals and steers the curriculum based on their interests.
Quinto wants her students to learn through "exploration" and play. In her classroom, the students take the wheel in their learning which fuels their curiosity.
"Our mission statement is to create lifelong learners. I want to buy into the curiosity that my students have and have them buy into that curiosity and use it to guide them through my classroom, and through life," Quinto said.
"I think that we need to keep that spark of curiosity alive in kids and adults. I have found myself to become so much more curious since starting to teach preschool. I noticed things that I never noticed before,"
"Questions come into my mind that I hadn't thought about before. About just little things that many people might think are just little mundane details and I want to keep that spark alive for all of the kids here."
Not only do the students learn from her but Quinto learns from them.
"I'm learning from them every day and we really work together. They sort of even guide the procedures that we have. I might have a certain routine that we do, and a child might have a different idea and we talk about it," Quinto said.
"Even in preschool, we talk about it and come up with a solution and try out some different things together to make it work for everyone better."
Students will join the Girls on the Run program because they know Quinto is one of the coaches, second-grade teacher and fellow coach Heather Brzykcy said.
"Everybody remembers having Mrs. Quinto as their teacher. Students she's had for years and years still come back to see her and visit her … people are always around saying hello to her and visiting with her," Brzykcy said.
Even when things are difficult, such as working during a pandemic, Quinto spreads joy in the classroom.
"I was actually lucky enough to not only train and mentor with Mary but also be her teaching assistant and that was during the pandemic. So, it was her and I in the gym with 24 fifth-graders and yet coming to work every day was the best thing ever," Brzykcy said.
"If you need a laugh, you go find Mary, if you need a hug you go find Mary. She's just like the rays of sunshine in our school building and we are just so lucky to have her. Our school would not be the same without her. She is the best."
Although teaching during the pandemic was difficult, Quinto said she learned a lot from the experience, including skills that she incorporates in her curriculum today such as the use of technology in her lessons and communication with families.
"I think that was a really great skill that I learned because I had to teach myself how to engage kids during the pandemic when they were home," she said.
"And then even when we were back in school, we still needed to do a lot of things virtually because we couldn't get as close and do more hands-on things together. So I think that is something that I really learned a lot from, even though it was really hard."
Quinto's commitment to the students is not only demonstrated by the comments from her peers but also based on her nearly hour commute to the school every day.
She previously considered finding a position closer to her home in Peru but decided to stay because she loves the Clarksburg School community. The school has become her "happy place."
"The energy and the community in this building is unlike any other. This is my favorite place to be. I used to have a sign in my classroom that said, ‘this is my happy place’ and it's not an exaggeration," she said.
"We are all friends. We are all collaborative. We take care of each other when we're down. We celebrate for each other when we're up. It is truly a family here and it's just such a special place to be."
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