Lower School

Amy Criswell

Early Childhood and Lower School Director
Master of Education in Elementary Education, University of New Hampshire
Bachelor of Arts in Theater, University of New Hampshire

Truly amazing things occur at Elgin Academy because we work to ensure that our students feel known and have a sense of belonging and purpose. At EA, students learn and discover in an active environment built on partnership, respect, compassion, challenge, and integrity. When students feel safe to express their ideas, make mistakes, ask questions, and be creative, meaningful learning takes place and it is magical
- Amy Criswell

Jennifer Brown

Lower School Administrative Assistant, Health Associate, Development Associate
Bachelor of Science, St. Louis University

Being a part of the EA Community means being in a place where people genuinely care. We celebrate each other in our successes and support each other in our challenges. We come to this place not just because it is a job or it is our school, but because we truly believe in the experience that takes place on our campus.
- Jenn Brown

Helen Elayan

Director of Personalized Learning
Bachelor of Arts, DePaul University
Masters of Arts, Adler School of Professional Psychology

My philosophy as a school counselor is the belief that every student can succeed. Learning is a lifelong process and I want to help students foster a positive self-image all in collaboration with the school, home, and community. My goal as the school counselor at EA is to provide a safe place for all students and to address every student's intellectual, emotional, and social needs.
- Helen Elayan

Courtney Boborci

Third Grade
Master of Arts, Aurora University
Bachelor of Arts, Illinois State University

Learning needs to be fun and engaging whenever possible. Creating opportunities where students are guiding the learning is one of the ways I make learning fun. I’ll often ask a student to, “show us” and I will sit in their seat while they take the lead at the board.
- Courtney Boborci

Thinking back on my childhood, school was not my thing. I have distinct memories of hiding from my parents when it was time to get on the bus. Sure, I liked seeing my friends, but the whole academic aspect of school was not for me. I surprised myself when finally, my junior year in college, the academics began to click. Then I became a mom, and by default really, a teacher. Everything was new, fun and exciting and I felt the need to perpetuate that energy. Learning wasn’t fun until I was personally invested in the learning itself. After earning a Master’s degree in education and five years in the classroom, this still holds true. I am still passionate about learning because of the energy my students bring to the classroom each day. Personal investment drives learning.

In order to love learning my students need to feel secure and confident in the classroom. They need to know that they are not alone on this risky journey of learning. I begin every year letting my class know that we are a team for the year, myself included. Together we set out some guidelines for how team members treat one another. Our team and these guidelines are referenced frequently throughout the year, both in the classroom and out. (PE, recess, etc) This makes risk taking within the classroom easier for each member of our team. We make mistakes, make corrections, and learn to embrace uniqueness. When I see how my class works together and supports one another on Field Day I know they don’t just look like a team, they have become one.

Learning needs to be fun and engaging whenever possible. Creating opportunities where students are guiding the learning is one of the ways I make learning fun. I’ll often ask a student to, “show us” and I will sit in their seat while they take the lead at the board. I use frequent breaks and physical activity to help maintain focus and energy throughout the day. We stand up and move around the room, dance, bounce balls, and more. Physical activity is proven to improve brain activity, and the students love to know they are exercising the muscle they need to be successful in school.

I get to know my students and they get to know me, too. It is important to make time for non-academic conversations. I share stories and ask questions to further my understanding of who they are as individuals, and in doing so learn the strengths they have to offer our team.

It is the combination of feeling like part of a team, my classroom being a fun place to be, and having a strong personal connection to my students that garners a personal investment from each student.

Suzy Ceci

Lower School & Middle School Spanish, Middle School Theater
Master of Arts, Universite de Toulouse Le Mirail
Bachelor of Arts, Universite Stendahl

When I teach my students to speak French or Spanish, I fancy myself doing a bit more than simply teaching them the skills to express themselves in those languages. I envision myself poking a hole in the language drapery, to enable them to peep at the conglomerate that makes it up: people, culture, land, history, and much more.
- Suzy Ceci

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart" Nelson Mandela) I love this quote by Nelson Mandela because I do believe that a special connection happens when one speaks to a person in his own language. To me, that heart connection emerges when we understand language as being more than what the Webster dictionary defines as “A system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other”. Languages live. They own people and land, have customs and idiosyncrasies that cannot be explained, only accepted. They evolve; constantly interacting with and borrowing words and expressions from each other, and yes, languages become extinct from underuse.

When I teach my students to speak French or Spanish, I fancy myself doing a bit more than simply teaching them the skills to express themselves in those languages. I envision myself poking a hole in the language drapery, to enable them to peep at the conglomerate that makes it up: people, culture, land, history, and much more. None of it happens overnight but time is of essence. Every language is someone’s treasure box, filled over the course of a lifetime, which we get to share with them. However, before any of my students can touch a native speaker’s heart, they have to learn to speak, which I encourage them to do right from the start. I use lots of prompting, repetitions, and movement. Eventually, one-word answers become full sentences, and prompted answers become spontaneous ones.

Learning to speak another language is scary, much like jumping at the deep end of the swimming pool without knowing how to swim. This is where music comes in handy. We use songs for everything in our classroom, whether to say that we are hungry or to describe people, to talk about the weather or to ask someone’s age, and tell how old we are. My students can sing many of the useful expressions they need long before realizing what they are doing. Later on, slowing down to speaking those is the easy part.

Aside from singing, my students acquire language through play, hands on activities, using it in context. The goal is to commit as much of the students’ learning to their automatic memory early (younger grades), so that they can access it down the road (in Middle School, Upper School… life) to discuss all sorts of topics like art, food, or make lively presentations about world pollution in front of our school green screen as my 5th grade class of the year 2012/13 did.

So what’s the big deal with learning other languages when English is spoken around the world? A heart connection. The thing with the heart is that it loves reciprocated feelings and when it receives them, there is much goodwill to go around the world doing good work as a global citizen.

Linley Collins

Kindergarten & First Grade
Bachelor of Science, Western Illinois University

I believe that students should be taught about the importance of different perspectives. Seeing new points of view can be truly eye opening. I will strive to make the environment of my classroom mirror a community, with students being productive members.
- Linley Collins

I know that my philosophy will constantly change and evolve as I continue to grow as a teacher. I will never claim to know everything. I will continue to learn, along with my students, and I will always try to remain open-minded and willing to grow in my beliefs and practices as a teacher. Since society is constantly evolving, so must I. Every child that enters into my classroom should feel safe and comfortable. My classroom is an environment full of nurturing and enriching.

I believe that students should be taught about the importance of different perspectives. Seeing new points of view can be truly eye opening. I will strive to make the environment of my classroom mirror a community, with students being productive members. Therefore, when a problem arises, I will guide students in solving it as thoughtfully as possible. I would like to see my students possess self-respect, respect of others, and a strong will for what they believe in—yet they must be able to compromise. These traits can be accomplished through group discussions, one-on-one talks with students, and the learning of different perspectives within my classroom.

I will take into account the individuality of all students. Students have diverse needs and I will strive to accommodate each one as successfully as possible by incorporating learner-centered experiences, integration of technology into the classroom, as well as guided individual instruction. These should be utilized for all subject areas. Learning opportunities must include identity exploration. Teachers are not only present to help students but also to help guide them through the good and bad of growing up. I believe that sharing personal stories should be valued in a learning community and students who are making life connections to the lessons we teach are far more likely to understand and remember the material being taught. Therefore, these connections should be embraced. One way to guide personal connections is to be involved with the children outside of the classroom.

I will always remember that when students are rewarded for effort, rather than quality of work, they will in turn keep trying to do their best. One of my main goals as a teacher is to produce life-long learners with strong core values. Every person learns at a different speed and in a different way, and this fact should be respected in the classroom as much as possible.

I am looking forward to growing as a teacher and as a student of education each year. I believe that learning along with the students is the greatest benefit of all.

Leah Culbertson

Second Grade, Upper School Girls Basketball
Bachelors of Science, Northern Illinois University
Early Childhood Certificate, Elgin Community College
Emergency Medical Technician License, Elgin Community College

Being here at Elgin Academy makes me feel like I am part of a community, which I haven't felt that way anywhere else in the past. Feeling welcomed has made me want to thrive and push myself as a teacher, create a safe environment for our kids and help them succeed in whatever they do. "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think"-Walt Disney
- Leah Culbertson

Amy Maly

Early Childhood Teacher
Bachelor of Science, Illinois State University

Each day I commit to challenging the children to grow and do so in a fashion that considers where each child is developmentally. By personalizing my interactions and facilitating opportunities for that growth to take place, I am delighted when they emerge into the young person that exemplifies their "true self".
- Amy Maly

My philosophy has evolved over the years through my wide range of experience, in addition to my soon to be 18 years of teaching. At the heart of it all, has always been and continues to be giving students the tools to feel confident in themselves and their ability. In order for anyone to meet their true potential and for their individual gifts to be discovered, self esteem is at the core.

Each day I commit to challenging the children to grow and do so in a fashion that considers where each child is developmentally. By personalizing my interactions and facilitating opportunities for that growth to take place, I am delighted when they emerge into the young person that exemplifies their "true self". It is not my goal for the children to please me, (though, the children at Elgin Academy excel in this) I want them to internalize the feelings of pride that come from within and engage in the magic of learning and growing, while preserving those wonderful imaginations chocked full of creativity, excitement and wonder.

Michelle Matalone

Kindergarten Teacher
Bachelor of Arts, Western Illinois University
Master of Arts in Elementary Education, University of Phoenix

Each day in the classroom, I am committed to creating a stimulating, encouraging, and supportive atmosphere for all students to learn and grow. Kindergarten is a journey where children try out new ideas and experiences that help engage their learning; to become budding readers, artists, mathematicians, and writers. I want each child to feel empowered and valued and be successful in school.
- Michelle Matalone

Kiana McDarrah

Early Childhood Assistant

Teagan Moore

LS Extended Day, Summer Program - Adventure Camp Lead Counselor, Summer Program STEAM Instructor
Elgin Academy Alumni
Attending Knox College - Theater, Art, and Music

I started in theater at a very young age and I thrived from the support I received. I want to give back and encourage young artists to purse their creative endeavors on the stage and beyond.
- Teagan Moore '18

Amber Nicholson

Fourth Grade Teacher
Bachelor of Arts, California State University - Stanislaus
Masters of Science, University of Utah
Masters of Arts, Dominican University

My mantra is "We are always learning something new everyday of our lives, from simple to profound. Learning never ends!" I challenge my learners to take risks, get comfortable with mistakes, support one another, think creatively, and make a plan of step-by-step progress toward success. Learning can be hard work, but we can enjoy the path and have fun along the way. It's about being able to say "I did it!" at the end of the day.
- Amber Nicholson

Craig Pinson

Middle School Athletic Director, Lower School & Middle School PE Teacher, MS Boys Baseball Head Coach
Bachelor of Science, Northern Illinois University
Master of Science, Ohio University

Being part of the Elgin Academy community is an amazing experience. I could not be more proud to represent this campus and these students in the classroom and on the field.
- Craig Pinson

Brian Wrightson

Lower School & Middle School Music, Summer Program Instructor
Bachelor of Science, Elmhurst College
Masters of Arts, VanderCook College of Music

Music students should learn how to become independent musicians, and lifelong music lovers. My personal goal is to impart my knowledge and enthusiasm for music in the students I have been given the privilege to teach..
- Brian Wrightson