May Teacher Spotlight: Dawn Parke

FSDB ELC teacher Dawn Parke.

The FSDB Early Learning Center (ELC) has a new home in the renovated Gore Hall, also the location of the FSDB Deaf Elementary School. Those who visit see colorful and visually pleasing bulletin boards that include the ELC newsletter. The ELC newsletter contains new vocabulary broken out by the week, a personal "Note from Us" with important dates, a review of "What We Are Learning" broken into topic areas, and monthly reminders about special dates and events. Upon entering the two ELC classrooms, one is immediately struck by the organized yet warm and friendly environment. The learning "works" (Montessori terminology) available to students have the Montessori stamp of excellence – fun but also highly educational.

How long have you been teaching at FSDB and how did you get here?

I have been teaching at FSDB for over seven years. I graduated with a B.S. in Human Nutrition and Food Chemistry from the University of Florida. After I graduated, I began to work in nutrition at The Children's Hospital at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. I worked there for six years educating parents of high-risk infants and children about proper nutrition and therapeutic meals. It was while working in the hospital that I discovered my love of ASL. I returned to school to complete my Master's degree in Deaf Education from Georgia State University. After a couple of years of teaching high school students in Georgia, my husband and I moved back to Florida to raise our four boys. I grew up in Florida and often would come to St. Augustine with my parents when I was younger. The beauty of our school campus has always captivated me. Looking back now, I feel I was always meant to work here. I received my Montessori certification in the Fall of 2015 after completing an 18-month training program. Our preschool program at FSDB uses the Montessori approach to learning.

FSDB ELC teacher Dawn Parke teaching deaf girl about butterflies.

What is special about Montessori methods?

Our preschool is a multi-age learning community. Eligible children can enter (upon enrollment) on their third birthday and can stay until age six. The Montessori philosophy encourages children to guide their own learning. Teachers prepare the environment to encourage independence and support each child's natural learning process. We design curricular areas to meet the developmental needs of each individual child. The environment allows children to work on their ability to concentrate, provides freedom of movement, and engages the senses while building character and respect for others within the classroom. We have five curriculum areas in the classroom. Practical Life concerns fine motor and eye-hand coordination; the Sensorial area involves learning through the senses, considered pre-Math and Pre-Science work; Cosmic Education can be regarded as Science and Social Studies; Language includes both Pre-Literacy, writing, and language works. We consider each student's IEP and developmental goals while designing curriculum in the classroom. Also, we change the work on the shelves continuously throughout the year to meet the student's individual needs based on our daily observations of how they approach and complete the curriculum.

FSDB ELC teacher Dawn Parke teaching 3 deaf boys about colors.