MMS teacher honored with AMS scholarship
Alasha Al-Qudwah, a Lower Elementary Assistant Teacher at MMS, has been awarded a scholarship from the American Montessori Society (AMS) Joanne P. Hammes Scholarship Fund. Alasha is one of a select group of educators nationwide, and the first in West Virginia, to honored by the nation’s foremost Montessori organization with a scholarship towards specialized training.
Alasha is pursuing Upper Elementary certification at the Montessori Elementary Teacher Training Collaborative in Waltham, Mass. As part of the intensive two-year program, she will spend six weeks this summer, as well as fall and spring sessions, training with educators from across the country and around the world at the METTC campus outside of Boston.
This fall will mark Alasha’s sixth year in Montessori education. She previously served in various administrative and arts capacities as well as an elementary classroom assistant. Starting this August, she will lead one of the two Upper Elementary classrooms at Mountaineer Montessori, serving students in fourth through sixth grades.
Alasha holds bachelor’s degrees from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and West Virginia State University and is trained in the Wilson Reading System. She is a composer, music instructor and performer, and contributed to the success of one of West Virginia’s most notable bands, Qiet.
“We congratulate Alasha on this well-deserved honor, which recognizes her dedication to Montessori education, commitment to our students and professional excellence,” said MMS Director Jennifer Carriger. “During her time at our school, Alasha has introduced wonderful new opportunities for our students. We can’t wait to see the enhancements she will bring to Upper Elementary as a Lead Guide starting in August.”
We invite you to learn more about Alasha, her educational philosophy and plans for her students in the year ahead:
What was it that drew you to Montessori education?
The peace-oriented education model that the Montessori classroom implements attracted me greatly to the curriculum. My daughter, Avalee, was starting to approach age 3 as I started researching the Montessori method after being hired to play music at an MMS event (the 2013 “Luminaria Gala”) at the Clay Center. Intrigued by musical experience and talking with teachers, I went home right away to research the idea of Montessori education. Every sentence I read on various websites made my eyes widen with joy as I realized this was the type of atmosphere I wanted her to grow and flourish in. Little did I know, I myself would be growing and flourishing right alongside her in this environment!
You are taking a big leap and a career change as well as making personal sacrifices to become a lead guide. What is motivating you?
I feel this the next step in my life and career. I had many amazing experiences of touring big cities through my music, recording albums in studios of famous audio engineers, creating and running a creative studio, and overall nurturing my creative passion with music for 20 years. To now spend my upcoming years nurturing a classroom for our students feels like an opportunity I’ve been grooming toward since the start of my employment in a Montessori school. I feel my personal sacrifices will ultimately become personal gains, as the Montessori classroom will help shape our future thinkers with compassion, creative insight, and social / environmental / cultural awareness.
What are you hoping to learn/discover in your training this summer?
This will be the first time I’ve been away from home and my daughter this length of time since her birth; that absence in itself will create a lot of self-growth and “shift of self.” The online training and assignments have already started changing the way I view my environment and how I approach my philosophy of teaching. With the summer training, I hope to learn the most effective ways of running a classroom, engaging our students in meaningful work, and still pushing academic growth through cross-circular activities that call on their creative lens. I am excited to learn how to organize my creative ideas into functional lessons that inspire and foster a love of learning in our students. I am also excited to connect with other professionals in this field; METTC has already proved to be a supportive environment and I am thankful I’ll be doing my training with their staff this summer.
It’s hard to fathom just how much I will learn because I know it’s going to be A LOT. However, my brain and spirit are ready to take in all that this intense, immersive training will offer. I know it will change my life–as it’s already started to!
Do you have any vision or special plans at this time for Upper Elementary II next year?
In my first year, I hope to gain the reins on planning an effective prepared environment that helps the students flourish in their creativity, academics, social relationships and cultural and environmental awareness. I am very excited to take on Montessori Model United Nations program next year with our sixth-year students. I am lucky to be stepping into a classroom that has been well prepared through the efforts of Upper Elementary Guides Emily Capece and Jason Winesburg, our consultant, Katie Ibes, and Director Jennifer Carriger.
I am looking forward to all the ways of putting my own community experience to use within my classroom and introducing our children to the amazing community that surrounds us in Charleston. I know as the years unfold, I will have many visions for our students.
Tell us about your preparation for training. What will your training entail and how long to full certification?
I finished up my first eight week online “Primary Overview” course where I was able to culminate the experience in an original piano piece with a video presenting “Sensitive Periods in Education.” The trainers strongly encourage creativity in all of the assignments, which resonates deeply with me as an artist. It was a lot of work to complete the weekly assignments with a full-time job and child in tow, but I truly encouraged it and have already learned a lot behind the motivations of the Montessori classroom.
My training this summer will be a stand-alone on campus 9-12 training through METTC in Massachusetts. It will be an intense training as we are in class Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m – 7 p.m. (We do labs at the end of each day to practice what we’re taught – which I love!) We have much to accomplish and learn in the six weeks, and it is easy to see no moment will be wasted! Once I return from training, I will have a follow up week week online course, as well as fall and spring seminars to attend at our training site in Massachusetts.
As someone who loves to travel, this all very exciting. As an artist, I find it very inspiring to plant myself in a new city for six weeks to deeply learn a skill that will become part of my life forever more. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I thrive off creating and completing meaningful goals, so this will be a great transition of self in the world I’ve known.
You have been involved in Montessori education for six years. What have been some highlights? Some surprises? Montessori Moments? What do you like best about the Montessori approach?
The highlights seem endless. My first highlight was creating an arts camp utilizing the amazing artists and musicians in our community to do a series of classes with students. It was my first experience in successfully organizing a month-long event as a director and gave me a confidence I didn’t know I was capable of having when it came to creating a program for children. I found a talent in leading and organizing that I was never aware of up until that point.
Highlights also include organizing my first music concert with grades K-6; creating an after school program that implemented enrichment programs; having my first experience teaching and guiding an original play with lower elementary students; having my first experience of guiding and helping lower elementary students create an original film; connecting deeply with all of my students on a community level; creating the most beautiful art project with middle schoolers that culminated in a huge pair of wings that accompanied our school’s gala; teaching group ukulele for the first time; making music with our middle schoolers at a graduation ceremony where it wasn’t teacher and students, but an equal stage where I accompanied them on violin to a Jason Mraz song that put us all in tears. It was one of the most beautiful highlights.
More highlights that are Assistant oriented: helping children learn to read and watching that spark take place; connecting with children at a one on one level that needed extra encouragement to seek their work; and the love of our children – the hugs, the compassion, the sense of trust they have in you. It’s beautiful.
Any personal reflections on MMS?
MMS has changed my life completely. Once I started working at MMS, I knew instantly I was at the right place and this felt like “home.” I was extremely nervous and took a huge chance when I applied to the school, not expecting there to be an opening. Once I was hired, my life only started transcending upward and all felt as if it was falling into place. The support of the administration and staff make your co-workers feel like family. The professional development brought into our staff meetings make it an enriching, professional experience that I had not experienced in a workplace up until that point. MMS gives not only the children the opportunity to “spread their wings”, but the staff, as well. It’s amazing to think of the foreshadowing MMS has had in my life since before my daughter was age 3 – the gigs, my obsession with the logo colors, and the community presence the school has. Now, I can’t imagine not being part of the mission of MMS.
What impact do you think Montessori has made on your own child?
Montessori has shaped my daughter’s love of learning. She is curious, inspired, and takes her work very seriously because the classroom has made it meaningful for her. She is able to learn at her own pace, which allows her to expand her horizons and take on deep research into what she’s interested in. She understands the importance of independence and has developed a deep respect for her environment because of the outdoor classroom and zoology lessons. (I learn something new every week because of how much she absorbs Karen Kelly’s lessons!) She has a sense of confidence that cannot be tamed when it comes to understanding what she is studying. I am so grateful that her teachers thus far in Primary and Lower Elementary have guided her in a way that instills a love of learning, self-care, respect, compassion, and sense of purpose in her life. The classroom pushes her to face her fears and challenge herself.
Favorite Montessori quote and why?
“Within the child lies the fate of the future.” This has always been my favorite Montessori quote as it gracefully puts a strong realization into the hands of adults: our children ARE the future of the society and environment we live in. It is our job to raise compassionate souls that implement peace, care for the environment, and empathy. In addition to structuring an enriching academic profile for them, the social elements outlined in the Montessori classroom are truly what can send courageous adults into society that can help better the world around them through awareness. It has been amazing watching the Middle School curriculum unfold as it gives me more of a purpose to cultivate our Upper Elementary students’ awareness and creativity through deep thinking.
What does the scholarship mean to you?
I am truly humbled that AMS has chosen me as part of their scholarship recipients this year. It means the world to me that they believe in my ability to become an instructor through their training program, and also makes me feel that much more connected and motivated to experience the new journey ahead.