The 2017-18 school year has officially come to an end. Students are getting ready for their summer vacations, teachers are wrapping up their work on campus and some of our beloved members at ASF are saying their last goodbyes. Susan Olivo has been a part of ASF for the past 22 years, starting out as a grade 1 teacher and navigating her way to Head of the ECC, after a solid trajectory in education, driven by her own curiosity and love of learning.
Before she leaves on her well-deserved retirement, we interviewed Susan, who will undoubtedly be back at ASF again, this time, in her role as a loving grandmother!
Why don't you start by telling us about your background in education? How did you get to ASF and what made you decide to become a teacher?
I went to the University of Toronto, where I got a B.A. in Education. When we lived in Edmonton, Alberta, I was a first-grade teacher and my husband and I got transferred to Mexico, so we could be closer to our family. Here, I applied at ASF and got a job as a first-grade teacher, even though I really wanted kindergarten, because I really enjoyed the early childhood. I worked as a first-grade teacher for four years and then finally there was an opening in the ECC and that's when I came over to be the ESL teacher. My major was Fine Arts, I was originally going to be a high school art teacher, but I got hooked with early childhood after I did a summer program and taught swimming to little kids. From then on, that was it! That's where my heart stayed.
How did you transition to Head of ECC?
I was always interested in taking different courses and when the PYP became part of ASF I was interested in learning more, and got offered the PYP coordinator position in the ECC and I became interested in the whole educational process. What I really liked was the inquiry-based learning, where children explore, do research and find out what they want to know on their own, not just in the traditional sense of learning and memorizing what the teacher said. I find the journey that kids take to learn is fascinating.
What was your greatest achievement at ASF?
It's been a fun process. When I became a teacher, I never really thought about leadership positions, but I found that as I started taking small steps in that direction, I really did enjoy working with teachers and facilitating their learning, their planning and their developing lessons for the students. ASF offered for me to go to the PTC, which is the Principals Training in Miami, and you know, one thing leads to another, and before you know it, you are sitting in the big chair! It was a gradual process where I moved from working with kids to working with adult teachers at a time when I was ready to do it.
How do you envision the future of the ECC?
I was part of the transition where we got rid of pre-first and I now see K3 students so aware, so alive and so willing to learn, that I really wonder about what we used to do when we thought we had to keep so many kids in pre-first. I've seen the learning potential of a five-year-old and I've seen how, if the programs are delivered to them sequentially, systematically and age appropriately, it's truly amazing what they can learn. So, I think the potential of the child is amazing, and I see them completely ready to cross the street when they are six and transition into first grade and to take on those challenges. We really work hard on the social and emotional aspects along with the academics, but we also work a lot on teaching students to self-regulate and to take responsibility for their actions and their behaviors. Children are so much faster and quicker now, they are exposed to so many things. It's incredible!
What do you think makes the ECC stand out from other kindergartens?
What ECC really offers is professional teachers who love their craft and we have teacher assistants who care deeply for their kids, so our adult to child ratio is very nice. We also have tons of stuff for the kids to do, they go to art, they go to PE, they go to music, they go to the library. We have a language development teacher who works on their English, since we are an immersion program; we have a reading interventionist and a language therapist here, so the kids really have the opportunity to grow, to get the attention that they need if they have a speech issue, to get the attention that they need if we see something that a therapist could help us with. I think the day is too short for all the things that we do. Kids come from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. We've always liked the idea of an extension of the day to 2:30, at least for K3, but I think the kids are given every opportunity to become independent, to become able to express their ideas. Although we're the first three years in a fifteen-year chain of education, I think we really give them a good strong beginning. In that sense, our teaching is intentional, purposeful and they don't just come to play. There is structure and purpose in everything that we do.
What advice could you share with Erin to make her transition into this new role easier?
My biggest piece of advice would be, don't react quickly to anything that comes your way. I would say, take the time to really listen to all the parties involved and think it through before you share your opinion or your thoughts. Don't think that you've got to answer to anything right away. Sometimes your best thoughts come at night, give yourself the chance to say, "Let me think about this, I'll get back to you," rather than only reacting. Know yourself, be calm and think things out before you make an important decision.
We hear your granddaughter will be attending next year? Would you have liked to been here while she is?
Of course I would have liked to have been here! Nothing would give me more pride and joy than to see her here, but I want her to be here without her "Omi" (grandmother) being here, I want her to just be able to flourish with the best teachers. Of course, I will be back for all the important events, for Grandparent's Day and other different events. I think the timing was just right in that I'm leaving and she's arriving and she's coming to this wonderful kindergarten.
What would you say you are leaving behind?
I'm leaving a strong sense of where we're going as far as academics go, in terms of the social and emotional, we will have a new counselor, who will take on a good counselling program. Parents need a lot of back up, sometimes they need to talk things out, sometimes these kids are their first and they don't really know what to do at home or how to handle them, so we work as a team. We have a good office staff, we have Miss Betty, who has been here for years and keeps up the fort as far as permissions go. People who have retired have been replaced by young professionals who have been trained the way we want them to teach, so I think we're in a very good place. Erin will step into a functioning ECC, with hopefully lots of things to improve, but I think the foundation is steady and strong.
What will you miss the most?
I will miss the camaraderie. I've enjoyed working with so many of my colleagues here for a good many years. I also found it's exciting to have that energy, to be on your toes as to what needs to be done. I work well with deadlines and under stress, but I'm looking forward to focus on other interests that I have not had time to pursue. It's been 22 years of going back and forth and I love to cook, I was going to be an art teacher so there is a lot of artistic stuff I want to do, I want to continue with my yoga and mindfulness, and my biggest project right now is to sell my house. I don't think I'll be bored, and even if I am, it will be like "Oh! So this is what boredom feels like!" I am retiring with years ahead of me to do so many things, whether it's volunteering, continuing with the recycling of the bottle caps... I'm not sad about it, on the contrary, I'm very happy and ready to see what is next in my life!