A Trip to Hardin Park School: Teachers' Knowledge-share

On Thursday, February 21, me, Deb, Matt, and Brian had a chance to meet with Hardin Park teachers to assess how our students transition from Mountain Pathways to public school. I note the date because it took not just one, but four attempts to reschedule the original meeting that was set for Thursday, November 15 due to weather.

We were greeted by the most energetic and delightful teachers in Ms. Sonya Blakely’s kindergarten classroom. In attendance was: Russell Hiatt, 6th grade social studies, Maria Nash, 1st grade teacher (and 6-9 Montessori trained), Meghan Scott, 1st grade teacher, and of course, Miss Sonya Blakely. The classroom was open and roomy with little stations strategically placed so students can move from one topic to another efficiently.

One of the first topics we discussed was the use of technology in the classroom. The state requires assessments for kindergarten through 1st grade and the assessments are computer based. Teachers walk students through the process and as they progress to first grade, their exposure to technology increases but in the form of a math program like Iready that integrates technology through individualized curriculum.

red ball.jpeg

The difference between kindergarten and first grade is that the pace of learning dramatically increases. Teachers, however are free to teach their curriculum how they see fit as long as they are following standards. To help students cope with potential stress, they have integrated “quiet” corners and strategies for self calming and conflict resolution. The first-grade teachers that we met with approached their curriculums differently to meet their students needs. Some even incorporated Montessori methods like using a red ball to demonstrate a verb.

Mr. Hiatt, the 6th grade social studies teacher elaborated on the transition of 6th to 7th grade. Like us, they recognize that children are moving towards a different plane of development and they prepare students by organizing into advisory teams that host weekly meetings. These meetings give space for the social and emotional development of students and teach them skills that develop a growth mindset.

As a Montessori teacher, I haven’t set foot in an elementary school since I was a kid. I have to be honest, I was humbled by the work that these teachers are doing. They are dedicated, funny, and kind. They are passionate about what they do and recognize that what they are doing is really hard-especially as state standards keep changing. They are kinda my new heroes.

How do MPS students transition to Hardin Park?

Good news! Our students, from their experience, transition extremely well. They are not behind nor culture shocked. They are curious learners, ask good questions, and are different in the best way possible. The only thing we should think about integrating is Letterland books since most kindergarteners have had exposure in preschool.  

The main take away from that meeting was that all teachers, no matter their education, training, or experience are all on the same page. We all want what is best for our students. We want them to learn and thrive in the environment that they are in.  We have a fantastic resource in Hardin Park and I foresee more meetings that will bolster relationships and our education system a whole.

As Ms. Nash said, “Ya’ll have fun! We are here if you need us, anytime.”

Same to you, Ms. Nash, same to you.

Kristy Hackler
Upper Elementary Teacher & Curriculum Coordinator


Meet Rachel McKinney, Board Chair-Elect

Rachel: An international educator with Appalachian roots

Rachel is a Boone native who returned in 2017 to be closer to family after living and working out of the area for more than 20 years.  Her expertise and training is in establishing formal and non-formal education programs in conflicts and following natural disasters, primarily overseas, and coordinating national-level strategies and implementation plans for education systems post-crisis.

Rachel and daughter, Kirby.

Rachel and daughter, Kirby.

In addition to supporting UN and NGO organizations, Rachel worked with the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) to develop the INEE Guidance Notes on Teaching and Learning which articulates the various educational inputs that contribute to quality education during crisis including support to teachers, classroom-level interactions and student learning.  

Rachel has extensive experience in multiple regions, and specifically in the Balkans, East Timor, Guinea, Afghanistan, Indonesia, the North Caucasus, Southern Sudan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, Zimbabwe, and Syria Crisis.  She holds an Ed.M. from Boston University in International Education Development and is ABD in an PhD program for International Education Policy - a kid and life proved to be too distracting! 

Back in Boone, she shares her time between consulting, exploring the potential of rebuilding the creative arts’ skills needed to become a children’s book illustrator/writer, and puttering around with her daughter, Kirby (Primary West) on a small family farm - in the summer that usually means wallowing in a mud puddle to the bemusement of the donkey and sheep and making flour-y messes in the winter. 

Rachel is keen to continue on the Board, assuming the Board Chair position in May, as MPS continues to explore our identity and continue moving towards an ambitious vision -  reminding her of the bumper sticker “Think Globally, Act Locally”.