Jan Reed, Lower Elementary Directress, has returned to Stepping Stones after having taken a year off following the birth of her second son, Isaac. During that year, Jan had plenty of time to do some soul-searching, and at the end of that search, she rediscovered Stepping Stones.
Jan started at Stepping Stones over 15 years ago. In college at the time, Jan worked in after-school care and as an assistant in Children’s House and in the infant/toddler environment. Jan had plans to go to nursing school, but, as has happened for so many staff, exposure to the Montessori philosophy caused her to change course.
While at Stepping Stones, Jan learned that her true love was working with children. She was also volunteering at the hospital, but hospital work didn’t provide the same fulfillment that she got working with children. So Jan switched to an education major, later joining Wilma Kiefer in Lower Elementary to do her student teaching. Soon, Jan became a lead teacher in Lower Elementary, where she has worked for over 10 years.
While on maternity leave, Jan looked at other job opportunities. She considered teaching jobs closer to her home in Hopkins. She looked at jobs outside of education. She explored and interviewed for positions from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids.
But, in Jan’s words, “I explored all over, and in the end, I realized that Stepping Stones has a sense of community I couldn’t find in other places. True community.”
Jan describes that community by observing that everyone is here for one reason—to celebrate our children. She says that when an email goes out for help, people pitch in. From staff to parents, there is a willingness to work together for a larger cause and a desire to reach out to invite the entire family into the school.
“The main reason I came back was for my children. I want their friends and their friends’ families to have a shared purpose with them,” Jan says. “I want my children to be in a place where ‘outside the box’ is not just okay. I want them to be in a place where ‘outside the box’ is described and opened to them.”
Jan’s year off changed her. She says that having a second child has made her different, and that having that much freedom to explore other options has helped her reframe her teaching goals.
She even says that these first few weeks have been the best start to a school year that she’s ever had. Jan and Margaret Venema are co-leading this year in the Willow Room, with 20 Lower Elementary students. She and Margaret decided early on to focus on what really matters by keeping things open rather than focusing only on curriculum.
Jan feels that this has allowed the students a degree of freedom that has translated into excitement for learning. Students have been doing more science and more art. Each lesson is taking on a life of its own, and the kids are enthusiastically digging in. She notes that there are still rough patches, but ultimately her willingness to deviate a bit from the lesson plan has helped students grow into the work.
Stepping Stones is honored to have Jan return to our community. If you are interested in the work Jan and Margaret are doing with the Willow classroom, contact us today to schedule a tour or observation.