Joining these new students are two new teachers, each eager to contribute to the all-important early education years of these students’ lives. The 2014-2015 school year includes the hiring of a new fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in Courtney Perkins, and a new pre-K teacher, Beth McKinney.
Perkins is a familiar face at Dover School, having served as a long-term substitute for the fifth- and sixth-grade classroom last year. Before joining the Dover staff, Perkins worked as a high school-level teacher at Mount Snow Academy, teaching chemistry and advanced placement biology to five students, while also creating curriculum between the months of November and April.
Before becoming a teacher, Perkins worked in multiple medical fields including work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and as a senior floor mentor at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where she developed a liking for teaching others. After moving to Vermont, Perkins decided to attend school for education rather than nursing as she had intended, and received her degree from Union Institute & University in Montpelier. Perkins moved back to Vermont in 2008 following her student teaching in Glens Falls, NY.
“When I entered the teaching program I wasn’t set to be a class teacher,” said Perkins. “ I was actually thinking of getting involved with medical and wellness education since I had a background in science as well.”
The student-based approach her education at Union provided her has helped her to develop a belief that education should be about thinking outside the box. “That progress was very inspiring for me to become an educator because it was the first time it wasn’t a prescription-based education that just fed me work and said you have to learn ABCD and take this test,” said Perkins.
Perkins intends to translate this same philosophy to her classroom, where she believes students can learn best by being creative and taking risks. “I majored in anthropology as an undergraduate and I love to travel so I wish exploring the world was more prominent in my school growing up in a small town,” said Perkins. “It’s something I want to open students’ eyes to is there is a big world out there and we can learn from and respect cultural differences.”
Perkins said that she and parents can expect both patience and flexibility from each other, as she does not intend to just hand out worksheets but create more interactive assignments that students may need their parents’ support for.
Perkins intends to use the knowledge of the teachers around her as well to help create exciting and innovative teaching methods. This includes continuing lessons she learned from her predecessor Michael Degnon. “We do a lot of team teaching here to integrate classrooms together so they can teach each other and learn from each other. I want to continue on with Mr. Degnon’s legacy as well, allowing the children to be part of a digital age and allow them to know the skills they need to have, and include them in that.”
Beth McKinney comes to Dover School’s pre-K classroom with more than 30 years of education experience. While her background has been focused primarily on special education, McKinney has taught grades from “birth to adult,” and has helped to institute and implement both special and essential early education programs throughout southern Vermont. McKinney joins the Dover School staff after working last year at a private preschool in the Windsor Northeast Supervisory Union.
McKinney began her education career in Florida, teaching high school students with dyslexia in a resource room before, she says, there were any created in Florida high schools. McKinney then came to Vermont where she worked with teens at the Brattleboro Retreat at the Meadows Educational Center. When she became a mother, she decided to move to childhood special education, working at the Winston Prouty Center with children with special needs across Windham County. When the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act became law in 2004, McKinney helped to create the first essential early education program in Chester for the Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union, as well as continuing to institute such programs in schools in southern Vermont.
Now McKinney is ready to continue educating preschoolers, who, she says, are at a special moment in their life as they get their first experiences outside the home and interacting with other children. “It’s their first school experience and it’s a very important time for three- and four-year-olds. We want to make sure it’s a very positive experience for them and that they enjoy themselves and enjoy the learning process. They’re very curious beings who are already absorbing things very quickly and while their first teachers are their parents, we help to structure their learning.”
McKinney says that children at preschool age need consistency in their lives both at home and from their teachers. McKinney said she looks forward to providing that stability at Dover School as someone students can rely on when they need comforting, a good education, a safe environment, and a safe experience.
“I love creating a positive learning environment as well as a positive social experience,” said McKinney. “It’s an important time for them to interact with other children and adults and create a foundation for their social development as well. They’re fun, curious, and love to learn, and a lot of fun to work with as well.” Mckinney intends to use her wealth of experience in her new position. “I have a wide variety of experience working with all ages, so I have a good understanding of child development since I’ve seen it at all the different stages of life.”