Sorrell graduated from the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program (BJS TEP) in 2016. She is now the Pre-K/Early Childhood Director at Estes Park Elementary School, part of Estes Park School District R-3. This rural Colorado public school has an extremely diverse population, and Sorrell has used this as an opportunity to create really interesting and innovative learning experiences that involve the entire community. In addition to her perspectives, offered below, we encourage you to follow her journey via Instagram @reggio_love_colorado
Where has your journey taken you since graduating the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?
Since graduating from the BJS TEP I have been on a journey to find a career that I love! During my time at Boulder Journey School I realized that I wanted to work with children in my own community. My husband and I live in the mountains outside Estes Park, and I wanted to work with children that I saw in my everyday life and children to whom I felt connected. There is only one public elementary school in Estes Park, so I set my sights on getting hired there. I went through 5 grueling interviews and was finally told that I would not be offered a job as a teacher until I gained special education experience. However, the school hired me as a special education paraprofessional, which was indeed a beneficial experience because I had not previously worked with children with special needs. Three months after I started work as a Paraprofessional, the preschool teacher quit unexpectedly, which opened the door for me to be hired for the job that I initially applied for.
I began as the Preschool Director just three months after being hired as a Paraprofessional. This is the position I am currently in, and I absolutely love it! I have a morning and afternoon class with 13 students in each, 4 days a week, with Mondays for planning. It is a public preschool program, so there is a lot to know, but I am navigating my way through Licensing, Teaching Strategies Gold and the Colorado Preschool Program. I have a huge amount of freedom. I have implemented the Reggio approach into our daily lives, and I am having so much fun with it. I re-designed the environment and am seeing the results. The children are thriving! Our program is play based and our classroom environment plays an important role in the children’s learning.
How did your education in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program help prepare you for your current professional role?
My education in the BJS TEP prepared me for my current role in ways I could never have foreseen. I learned that my power as an educator lies in my strengths, which I have identified as creativity and advocacy. I use these strengths every day in my career, and these were traits I did not know I possessed until my time at Boulder Journey School.
During the BJS TEP, I was encouraged to take professional risks, which helped me discover my teaching style. Advocacy is something I had not considered to be part of a teaching role until the Teacher Education Program. Learning about advocating for students, for preschool, and for yourself as a professional was very powerful. Being an advocate includes being professional and treating other teachers as professionals. Creating mutual respect between all educators is really important if you want to raise up the profession and make positive changes in education.
The BJS TEP also taught me how to bring creativity into every aspect of my career. There are many ways to view creativity. It is easy for me to be creative in the classroom, whether I am setting up provocations, designing art projects or putting up documentation, but it can be difficult for me to be creative in other, less obvious ways. For example, being able to think of creative ways to communicate and engage parents is essential, as is thinking of creative ways to reach special education students and communicate with the various specialists with whom I work. It is difficult as a teacher to take on so many responsibilities, and I feel like creativity is essential for problem solving, which is a large part of my job.
What is your favorite memory from your time in the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program?
My favorite memory from the Boulder Journey School program are from the course ECED: Introduction to Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum. During this course and at the end of a long day, I was trying to think of an engaging provocation. I decided to fill a plastic container with water, leaves, and rocks. The next morning, the children found it and turned it into a pond. The children played in the pond every day for several weeks, and I studied engagement as part of my DAC. It was incredible how the pond grew and changed. It started in a tiny container, and then grew into a larger container. The children filled it with all different materials. Some days it looked like a real pond with turtles, frogs, and leaves. Other days, they added sand and dinosaurs, and it looked like a scene from Jurassic Park. I learned so much from observing the children’s play in the pond. It was a sensory experience, it encouraged empathy, it encouraged social play, it created opportunities for imagination, it provoked sharing, and through this play children built friendships.
What brings you joy in your current professional position?
The children bring me so much joy! Every day there are special moments where my heart feels full, and I don’t think I would feel this way in any other profession. Last week I watched a 5 year old girl cleaning the face of one of the 3 year old special education students. It was such a gentle and kind exchange, and it made me remember why children are so amazing. They don’t judge each other or label each other. My students remind me to be a kind person, and I think working with children makes me a better person, more reflective and less judgmental. The children also make me laugh, even when I am feeling frustrated, sad, or exhausted, which is pretty wonderful!
What professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of completing my Master’s Degree and then pursuing a career in early education. I use what I learned through my Master’s everyday, and that is a really great feeling. I am especially proud of how professional I am when communicating with families. I have to interview every family who applies for a preschool space at my school to make sure they are eligible for public preschool. I have to ask difficult some questions. I have had conversations about why families moved from Mexico to Estes Park, I have had conversations with parents who use drugs, and I have had conversations with openly racist families. However, I am proud of how the BJS TEP prepared me for this, and I am constantly thinking back to all I learned in the course EDFN 5010: Social Foundations and Cultural Diversity in Urban Education. I also think back to the 100 Languages of Children and how this relates to parents, not just children. It helps me look at situations from parents’ points of view and try to understand their situation, which can be very challenging, but also very rewarding.
In terms of your professional life, what are you most passionate about right now?
I am currently working on transforming our playground into a natural outdoor classroom, which I am very excited about. Our playground is currently an old plastic structure which has been vandalized. I believe the children deserve a higher quality environment, so I met with my Principal and the Head of Maintenance to present my ideas. I was very nervous, and to prepare, I researched playground safety, maintenance, and cost. I successfully persuaded them that a fully natural playground was the direction to go, and they gave me the go-ahead to have the old playground torn out and to begin working on creating a new one made of wood and stone. I have applied for two very large grants, and I should hear about them very soon. I am also involving students in the design of the new playground, and the company who will hopefully be installing and helping design the new playground is the Natural Playgrounds Company. They are amazing!