Exuding a seriousness of purpose coupled with a spirited enthusiasm, Ellie reveals her keen intellect, her love for her craft, and her unwavering regard for, and commitment to, each and every student and teacher with whom she works. “When a child can independently solve a problem, the child owns it. At Key, you don’t teach by ‘telling’ because that is not effective. Instead, you hone in on what will ensure the child’s depth of understanding. Both the mathematical goal and the knowledge of the child as a learner must be crystal clear in your mind. This keeps teaching fresh and exciting and challenging to me.”
With an educational philosophy that was forged at a young age, Ellie has a deep-seated appreciation for the academic choices that her parents made in her behalf. “I went to a progressive day school in Rockville, Maryland—Green Acres—from grades two through eight and then to Maret School in Washington, DC. When I got to high school, I realized that those of us who loved to learn were the students who had come from a school [such as Green Acres] where there were no grades, and, conversely, those who had no spark for learning had come from a culture where it was all about getting the ‘A.’ I knew then that the most critical part of my education had already happened.”
Ellie grew up in Washington with her father, a lawyer who now teaches in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland; her mother, a psychotherapist; and an older sister and younger brother. From Maret, Ellie went to Bowdoin College where she graduated cum laude with a B.A. in comparative religion. “Because of an amazing teacher that I had in high school, I knew that I wanted to teach math one day but I majored in religion as a way to better understand cultures around the world. In completing her course of study and in spending her final year of college and the subsequent year traveling in Southeast Asia—primarily in Japan and Thailand—Ellie did just that. Upon her return, Ellie worked for ten years in local and state government, concluding this service as the Executive Director of Volunteer Maryland! where she launched one of the nation’s first AmeriCorps projects, recruiting and training adults to give a year of service to a non-profit organization. “Training these adults reinforced my commitment to education so I went to Johns Hopkins where I earned a master’s degree in The Art of Teaching and then taught elementary school for two years in the Howard County Public School System.”
Obviously the embodiment of a lifelong learner and undoubtedly an astute educator, Ellie’s quest for the right school for her own children was not to be taken lightly, even before she had them. In fact, just after her stint in the public schools in the mid-1990s, Ellie worked at Key, admittedly “checking it out” from the inside, and increasingly found herself to be a kindred spirit in the process. Ellie spoke recently of that which initially attracted her to Key. “I loved the open campus where children could travel amongst multiple buildings, feeling the weather and hearing the birds…. I was thrilled with the breadth of the music program—which I see as an extension of math—with its rhythms, patterns and fractions…. And a huge selling point for me was the outdoor education program. I knew my children would hike, backpack and camp with my husband and me but the ability to do this with their peers is critical to instilling values such as collaboration and consideration of others. We can’t entirely shield them from popular culture but the School’s programs provide an important counterweight.”
Now at Key for more than a decade, Ellie has served as math specialist since 2003. Her daughters Katharine and Julia—each of whom joined Key in their Pre-School years—are currently in the fourth and second grades. With her primary role as Lower School Math Coordinator, Ellie also teaches Life Skills classes and serves as a math resource teacher in the Pre-School.
“A highlight of my job is my partnership with the talented classroom teachers that I get to work alongside,” Ellie said. “It is through this partnership that I witness the math curriculum unfold, am able to pull new resources to maintain a robust math program, and measure student progress.” Collaboration is clearly a strong value that Ellie strives to instill in her students and one that she ‘lives’ in her interactions with students and colleagues alike.
Second grade teacher Erin Morgan ’74 shared her perspective, “Ellie has an incredible commitment not only to children and their education but also to their overall wellness. This is what, I think, drives her. While she has taken on the role of Math Coordinator and has turned her sharp mind and persistent, probing curiosity toward this subject, it is all within the context of helping to support children who are honored first as individuals. She finds magic and joy in each child and strives to connect the individual to curricular content in a way that is meaningful and authentic to that child. She is truly intrigued by discovering how children think and where their understanding falls on the developmental continuum or, as she would say, to ‘finding their edge.’ Her focus is on producing healthy, intact people who celebrate learning. That’s what she’s about.”