The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life around the world, but in Sally Monroe’s prekindergarten classroom at Edgecomb Eddy School, it’s mostly business as usual.
The Boothbay native has been working with kids since she was in middle school. She volunteered with the Special Olympics in Boothbay, worked in child care at the Boothbay Region YMCA, and did a lot of babysitting, so when it was time to apply to colleges, early childhood education was a natural choice.
Monroe knew early on that she didn’t want to teach any grade level above third. “I get to be one of these kids’ first experiences with school,” she said. “I get to instill a love of learning in them.”
After one year at Keene State College in New Hampshire, Monroe transferred to the University of Maine in Orono. She graduated in 2013.
She started her career working as an educational technician in West Bath before becoming a part-time preschool teacher at Woolwich Central School. She loved it, but needed a full-time position, so she got a job as a kindergarten teacher at Warren Elementary School, where she stayed for three years.
Monroe loved her time at both schools, but when she heard about an opening for a pre-K teacher at Edgecomb Eddy, she knew she needed to apply right away. Now, two years in, she’s glad she did.
“I love how small the community is. It’s close, so I still feel like I’m part of the Edgecomb community,” she said. Monroe commutes from Boothbay.
She said that her first year at Edgecomb Eddy had a learning curve. “When I taught preschool part time, I followed a strict curriculum, then when I taught kindergarten, it was really academic,” Monroe said. At Edgecomb Eddy, she doesn’t have a rigid curriculum she has to follow — she doesn’t have to designate a block of time specifically for reading or writing or math.
This year, she’s been able to see what worked last year and apply it to her new students, although the coronavirus was an extra hurdle that made planning difficult.
Monroe said that her class of 11 preschoolers has handled the pandemic very well, in part because it’s their first experience with school.
“The kids are really close emotionally,” Monroe said. “They’re getting along really well.”
Edgecomb Eddy has implemented more outdoor education this year, which gives the students more opportunity to play together safely. Inside the classroom, kids can’t share toys or sit close together, but in the woods by the school, there’s more room to spread out for imaginative play.
Monroe worries that preschool kids won’t get the same socialization that students in previous years had. Typically, the entire school has lunch and recess together, giving the younger kids an opportunity to make friends with older students and have mentors in the school.
She also said that many parents probably feel disconnected from their child’s school life, because parents aren’t able to come into the classroom or chaperone field trips like they normally would.
Despite the challenges, her class has risen to the occasion. “They’re really responsible,” Monroe said. At the beginning of the school year she had to remind a few students to keep their masks on the right way, but now she rarely has to say anything.
“It’s going so much better than I imagined it would,” she said.
Monroe is working toward a master’s degree in literacy through the University of Maine, while also teaching full time.
“One of my favorite things in the classroom is reading aloud. I have an obsession with books,” she said.
She took a class last year called The Art of the Picture Book, where she learned about wordless or near-wordless books and how to teach them to a class.
Preschoolers can get frustrated with books because they can’t read all of the words yet, but through wordless books, Monroe can teach them how to understand a story without understanding each word.
Teaching during the pandemic hasn’t always been easy, but Monroe will be able to look back on this school year fondly. She’s watched her students grow and adapt to difficult circumstances.
“It isn’t a weird, negative time,” Monroe said. “It’s been a very positive year.”
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