Person of the Week
Shannon Baker Teaches and Learns the Lessons of Life
As head teacher of Circle Nursery School in Madison, Shannon Baker enjoys teaching the young children, but adds that she learns valuable lessons from them, as well. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Baker )
Play is the highest form of research—at least that’s what Albert Einstein is thought to have said. Well, if that saying is true, then Shannon Baker is immersing her young students in the best form of research.
Shannon is the head teacher at Circle Nursery School in Madison, and she gives her students plenty of time to play.
“When they arrive each morning, they seem to forget all about their little masks immediately,” she says about the new protocol at the nursery school. “They just want to get right down to their important business—playing.”
In fact, even the masks have been a point of fun for the children. They talk about their face masks, which display themes ranging from Spider-man and Mickey Mouse to unicorns and Elsa of Frozen.
As far as COVID-19 protocols are concerned, Shannon notes, “Their parents have prepared them very well. This means my job is to make sure I reinforce healthy habits, to maintain our normal school day routines and rituals, to be vigilant for behavioral changes, and to offer extra comfort and reassurance as necessary.”
To ensure the safety of the young students, Circle Nursery School has implemented a whole list of guidelines that go beyond the strict protocols of wearing masks and sanitizing hands.
For instance, class sessions and playground times have been staggered. Class sizes have been reduced and toys aren’t shared unless they have been sanitized. Drop-off and pick-up procedures have also been altered such that caregivers can no longer escort their child into and out of the school; instead, the children are escorted by staff members.
Shannon explains that the school has about 40 students, divided into classes by age. The three-year-old kids meet on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the four-year-old students meet on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and the five-year-old children meet Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Shannon teaches the 14 students aged 3 and the 13 students aged 4.
“Because I teach both of those ages, very often I have the same students for two years in a row. This is called ‘looping,’” she explains.
“I love this so much because not only am I able to really get to know the children as learners, but I am also able to establish a deep relationship with them and their families,” she says.
She notes that her work is made easier by three assistant teachers who help her in the classroom.
“They are integral and invaluable to the success of every single school day,” she adds.
Shannon earned her M.S. in special education with a concentration in early childhood from Southern Connecticut State University and a B.A. in elementary education from Boston College.
She and Bill, her husband of 30 years, have lived in Madison for close to 25 years. Together, they have five children: Elizabeth, 27; Patrick, 24; Anna, 22; Daniel, 19; and Mary, 15.
She also has a twin brother, Shawn, and a younger sister, Tara.
Shannon taught grade 4 students in Ledyard before coming to Circle Nursery, but now thoroughly enjoys teaching nursery school students.
“I was very happily an elementary teacher for four years,” she says. “I never dreamed I would be an early childhood educator, but when I was ready to return to teaching after staying home for 21 years, I wasn’t quite ready for a full-time position. Preschool was the perfect fit. Honestly, the minute I started teaching preschool, I loved it more than any other teaching I had done. It felt like I was always meant to be a preschool teacher.”
But the lessons have not been one-way at Circle Nursery School. Shannon says she learns from the children, as well.
“The children have taught me to enjoy life’s simplest pleasures. Children don’t need fancy or expensive toys to enjoy themselves. They adore puddles, caterpillars, rainbows, sparkly rocks, and tree stumps. When we all sit quietly together under a tree and look up at the beautiful foliage, their excitement reminds me that the best things in life are free,” she says.
A Gift of Life, A Lesson in Kindness
Earlier this year, Shannon performed an act of charity that goes well beyond everyday good will.
She donated one of her kidneys to a stranger.
She explains that she learned about the need from a friend’s post on Facebook. The posting said that the recipient needed a donor to have a blood type B-positive and, as a result, the search was difficult and unsuccessful. In fact, the American Red Cross website reports that only about nine percent of the population has B-positive blood.
“I had tried to be a kidney donor about five years ago but wasn’t a blood type match, so this time I felt like I might be of some help. So, I immediately sent my friend [a message] asking for more information,” Shannon says.
She underwent an extensive donor evaluation process that included phone interviews; blood and tissue testing; an EKG; a chest X-ray; a CT scan; a class on risks, benefits, and recovery; and consultations with nephrologists, nurses, social workers, dieticians, transplant specialists, and a living donor coordinator.
After the entire process, she was told that she was a suitable match for the recipient.
As luck would have it, COVID-19 delayed the surgery, originally scheduled for March 16. It was finally done on May 28 at the Penn Transplant Institute at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.
“In preparation for the surgery, my family and I rented an Airbnb and sheltered in place in Philadelphia. All went smoothly, and I was released from the hospital in two days,” she recalls.
She also remembers that the protests resulting from the death of George Floyd erupted on the night she was released from the hospital in the neighborhood she and her family were staying in Philadelphia.
“To hear the gun shots and sirens nearby was super scary,” she says. “We didn’t feel safe, so we packed our bags and headed back to Connecticut. The ride wasn’t very comfortable for me, but luckily, we squeaked through Philadelphia, New York City, and New Haven before the protesters shut down the highways.”
She adds, “Today, the recipient is doing very well and is now a friend. The silver lining is that since the surgery, I have learned that the recipient is a wonderful human being and beloved by many. How perfect that he has lots of love and many gifts that he is now healthy enough to share with the world.”
She says that she is grateful that her act of compassion was fully supported by her family and coworkers at Circle Nursery School.
“When I think about the meals, handwritten notes, special visits, and thoughtful gifts, I am blown away by the generosity and kindness of the people in my life. I gave away a kidney and in return, I received a tremendous lesson in kindness,” she says.
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