Having spent her childhood overseas in Japan and later developing a passion for early childhood education, Ashley pursued a Master of Arts in Global Education, which ultimately brought her to MUSE. Pairing her love of culture and education, Ashley has flourished as an early kindergarten teacher at MUSE, and truly believes that our passion-based learning model helps to facilitate positive, lasting connections for each child. Ashley’s 3-year-old daughter, Alice, and eight-year-old son, Liam, also attend MUSE.
What initially brought you to MUSE and drew you to our unique approach to early childhood education?
I already had my masters in global education, and when I looked into MUSE I quickly saw that it really encompassed everything I believed in: the philosophy, the mission and vision, and the fact that they hone in on sustainability. I saw they were hiring for an ECE teacher and applied right away. I did a group interview, loved the questions asked and how open they were. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
I came from working at a private school on a military base, and everything felt ‘grey’ to me there. When I went to school, I learned so much about how colorful education is beneficial to children. And I liked thinking outside of the box. When I saw how MUSE was all about being creative, adaptable, and different, I knew this was the type of school I wanted to work for.
As you were going through your education, what made you want to focus on early childhood?
When I was pregnant with my son, I took my first child development class because I wanted to learn how to better support him at home. I knew that school life and home life were so important to connect. After that, I grew this passion for education and went into early childhood studies, and then thought, ‘I have to know more.’
I then went on to get my Masters degree in Global Education when I was pregnant with my daughter – so my kids have always pushed me to go in this direction. So I feel that, as a teacher, it’s very intentional for me. It’s more than just teaching – it’s being a part of that connection with these kids, and also knowing what these parents are feeling, having their kids at school for the first time.
Tell us about the passion-based learning approach and the impact you’ve seen it have on your ECE students.
Passion-based education is very different from what I’ve experienced at other teaching jobs, where you’d have a theme for every week. It’s always the same type of projects that most preschools do. It wasn’t child-led, and it wasn’t allowing them to have a more creative side and allow those muscles to grow.
Here at MUSE, we focus heavily on what the kids want to learn – what interests them. And then creating projects with them around their unique passions. My favorite is when kids already know what kind of projects they want to do, and we’re here to help facilitate that. It’s not just student versus grown-up here. We are all on the same level, and are here to grow and learn together – and I love that the kids see and feel that as well.
My first time at MUSE, I had a 4-year-old come up to me, introduce themselves, and walk me through their passion project. I had never seen anything like it before – that level of confidence. How does a MUSE education help students cultivate that skill?
That brings me to our self-efficacy pillar! We help encourage a lot of confidence in these kids by believing in them, and telling them that all things are possible as long as you’re willing to put in a little work. A lot of kids will say, ‘I can’t do it’ in the beginning of a new project, and I tell them ‘I believe in you and can help you get there.’ It’s giving them the tools and support to scaffold an idea.
It’s also really great that MUSE is a networking school, and we connect children to adults that are in their field of interest. We show children that if you really want to go down a certain path, we will connect you somebody that can help you learn more. And they have parents that are very encouraging, as well.
Tell us about how your students’ awareness around the environment is developing at such a young age.
We of, course, make everything age appropriate. One thing I like to teach in my class is to be intentional with the materials they use for their projects. We talk to them about being mindful in what they’re doing every day – we talk about waste, water, compost…and now I have kids that will be so proud of conserving resources. We also talk about how there’s household items we can use in the classroom. It’s teaching them about how to be resourceful.
What has it been like seeing your own child start their MUSE education?
My 8-year old son went to another school for preschool where I previously worked, and then to kindergarten at a public school. It was constant homework every day – I felt there was a disconnect with him. He came here, and right away he made friends. And now he’s so into his gaming passion, and his second grade teacher was really supportive. He’s not sitting in front of a computer playing video games – he’s learning how to make it, understanding the math behind it, the language, the coding, and the history behind gaming. It’s amazing to see these teachers supporting that passion. I can do that at home, but it’s different when you have a teacher nurturing that interest for you at school.
He’s definitely more aware of the environment now, too. When we go to my parents’ house, he’ll be a little environmental advocate, and point out when we’re being wasteful there, and to turn the water off, or turn the lights off because it wastes energy. And it’s not teaching him to fear, it’s teaching him to be aware. We’re more aware of what we put into our bodies, what we do at home, and outside of our home. He’s an advocate for making this world last longer.
And even though my daughter is three, she’s already aware of waste, takes care of her things, and turns off the water when she’s brushing her teeth. It definitely shows you that they’re not too young to learn these things. The best time to teach children anything is in the first five years of their life, because that’s when they’re sponges. And whatever they take in during those first five years is going to stay with them.
Now, people are wanting to open MUSE Schools all around the world. How do you think that MUSE makes sense in different cultures and countries, given your expertise in global education?
It’s because more people are being aware of their own countries, because they’re realizing the input they put into their children will be the output of future adults in their country. A lot of people see MUSE, and how much we put into our kids, and how they’re going to do something amazing for the world. MUSE is hitting home with a lot of people because we’re realizing children aren’t robots anymore. In a 21st century world, you can’t have industrialized education anymore. Eighty years ago, that was necessary; but times are changing and education has to be changed as well.
And the amazing thing about MUSE is that we are taking in the latest research and putting it into our school. So one year, we’ll implement one piece of research, and then next year more will come in, and we’ll adapt, while still falling under state standards. I feel that MUSE is leading in education – not just in the private sector, but leading all schools. We are getting that international recognition because we’re putting children first.
I feel like these last few years, the public has become more aware of our carbon footprint, the greenhouse effect, and global warming. This school has been pushing it for years. Knowing there’s a school that teaches kids about what’s happening in our environment, but without being fear-based, is attracting all these people. Countries around the world are now asking, ‘how do we become more sustainable?’ It starts with children, and starting the process of teaching them young, because they’ll be the ones taking care of the planet. I think that’s another important reason why we don’t have a hierarchy with grown ups and children at MUSE, because we all have the same mission here on this planet.