Greensboro Montessori School has been celebrating eighth grade graduations since 1997, when our first class of three eighth graders completed their Montessori journey and excelled into high school. These early graduates are now young professionals with families of their own and many choose to enroll their children at our School. This year we welcomed another legacy alumni family to our School – Michelle Todd and Steven Todd '03. Michelle is a speech language pathologist in Gastonia and Steven is a professional pilot. Their son, Andrew, is a member of our Toddler community.

GMS: Michelle and Steven, thank you for taking time to share more about your family with us. Before we jump in, what can you tell us about yourselves as individuals?

MT: I grew up in a rural area of Indiana with my parents and younger sister. I knew early on I wanted to be in a profession that helped individuals. I attended Purdue University for my undergraduate degree and UNCG for my masters degree. I primarily work with the adult population specializing in stroke/traumatic brain injury, head and neck cancer, and dysphagia within the acute and inpatient rehabilitation settings. Outside of work I love to craft, bake, organize, spend time with our dog (Maisy), and travel.

ST: Thanks to my dad, aviation has always been a love story to me. With all the ups and downs, a love story is about passion, goals, and dreams. And those dreams started young for me!

I remember teachers at GMS helping me learn certain concepts by trying to explain it in aviation terms. Part of my graduation speech included my goal to attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. This eventually became a reality. While I originally wanted to fly professionally, I pursued aviation management after heeding the advice of my dad that I should learn every aspect of the aviation industry to truly find my passion.

I started on the ramp loading baggage and cleaning jets at the Greensboro airport for Piedmont Airlines during college. Following graduation, I moved to Phoenix working on the ramp in management. The following year, I secured a position in Charlotte for US Airways (and later American Airlines post-merger) as a customer service manager. I eventually managed AA’s ground operations from the tower. Throughout this time, I still had a desire for flying professionally and pursued completing my flight training. I later moved to Florida where I instructed international students how to fly. This is where I think Montessori helped me the most. I was now sitting where my teachers sat, except it was in an airplane teaching someone how to fly an amazing machine. I found the teaching techniques I remembered from my time at GMS successfully influence how I instructed. Following a year teaching, I moved on to Envoy Air, a Regional Airline for American Airlines flying an Embraer 175 out of Chicago.

Presently, I fly a Boeing 767 for Atlas Air flying Amazon Cargo and US Troops and their families around the world. Along with everything you do in life, the hard work and the passion with which you approach your goals and dreams are everything: from a baggage handler loading and cleaning jets night after night to working one of the coolest jobs I think most children dream about when they look up in the sky. I wholeheartedly believe if it wasn’t for my upbringing in the Montessori environment, it would have been a lot harder to pursue those dreams. A child can truly be or do anything that they can imagine which is what I think Montessori is best at. The passion and the imagination of a child is truly an incredible gift that we all get to take a part in developing and fostering.

GMS: You both have great personal stories. How did these stories come together?

MT: We met during college at a young adult church function. We later learned we actually lived in the same apartment complex one building apart. We ended up dating long distance upon graduation; however, distance certainly made the heart grow fonder. We feel the strong foundation in communication we made has allowed us to continually grow together. We love the beautiful life we are making and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

GMS: We are excited as well and grateful your family has chosen GMS to play a role. Michelle, do you remember when Steven first told you about his time at GMS and the moment when you decided as a family that Montessori was right for your family?

MT: Steven first shared his educational journey during our time while dating. He always expressed such fondness of his experiences with Montessori from approachability and helpfulness of his teachers to his fun learning experiences that helped foster confidence and responsibility.

After getting married and discussing more in depth our goals for future child(ren), we both agreed a strong educational foundation was of upmost importance to us. Knowing Steven’s positive outlook from his time in Montessori, it certainly was in the forefront of our plans. Once Andrew had his first birthday, we knew Montessori schooling would be perfect for our very curious and active little boy to help further nurture his independence.

GMS: Yes, Andrew is so curious and independent. We see it in the classroom every day. Steven, how does it feel returning to GMS as a parent? What’s the same, and what’s different?

ST: I think it’s absolutely incredible to return to GMS as a parent. And it’s wonderful seeing adults sending their kids to GMS that I grew up with as well. I think it’s truly powerful to step back into a classroom that I once worked in helping mentor children as a middle schooler. Even as an adult, I still get the same excitement as when I was a student stepping on campus every day, as well as the strong feelings of being loved and cared for as an individual. On that note, I think it’s extremely important for a child to have those same feelings and the same environment to be able to grow into a wonderful caring person throughout the years, which is why I wanted Andrew to be at GMS. I think it’s the best gift in life we could ever give him. I think it’s absolutely incredible what GMS has become since I graduated in 2003 and very much look forward to seeing Andrew grow in the same atmosphere.

GMS: Thank you, Steven, and welcome home! We're so glad to see you every day and thankful you've introduced us to Michelle, and she is also part of this place. What is it about Montessori that most appeals to you as parents?

MT: It is certainly different from the “traditional” or “standard” model that I grew up with; however, I think I appreciate that the most. Maria Montessori stated, “The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.” I am encouraged to know this learning model focuses on the individual with development of foundational life skills for becoming a successful, independent person. I never want my child to have his curiosity or creativity diminished. I want him to be supported and surrounded in an environment where he doesn’t feel insecure to seek out help with challenges and recognize his capability in doing hard things. I also love the encouragement of fostering his constant desire for movement!

ST: Growing up in Montessori, I absolutely loved school. Maria Montessori quoted, “As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.” I think this is a very powerful quote for children when it comes to the learning process. A learning environment should be exactly that. That’s why Montessori really spoke to me as a child and really helped foster my personal learning style ... because every child learns differently, and the Montessori environment in my opinion is the best at that.

GMS: What are your dreams for Andrew as he embarks on his Montessori journey?

MT: I hope to follow Maria Montessori’s statement “The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” During this phase of toddlerhood, I hope he will continue to develop his love of learning by supporting his curious nature. I also think promoting independence will help his self-confidence, perseverance, and initiative. I know these aspects will help develop a strong foundation for skills he will utilize for his lifetime.

GMS: Thank you for your time, your thoughtful words, and your support of Greensboro Montessori School. We love being on this journey with you and Andrew.