By Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. A few weeks ago, Rosalba Bortolotti the director of Acorn School posted an announcement on Facebook that the school was closing. This wonderful site for joyous learning and teacher research has been instrumental in my own journey as a Reggio inspired educator and I wanted to thank and pay tribute to Rosalba and the amazing teachers there.
I had the good fortune of meeting Rosalba early in her career when she first began dreaming of opening up her own school. We have become friends, colleagues and co-travellers on the journey of Reggio inspiration. We have travelled together to Reggio Emilia in 2006 and again in 2011. We have taken road trips, put on workshops together and have had countless long and sometimes loud discussions about theory and practice. I have always marvelled at Rosalba’s seemingly innate ability to authentically integrate the principles and philosophy of the Reggio Emilia Approach. I wasn’t surprised when the comments to the post started coming in from near and far expressing surprise, sadness and gratitude. I too will miss the school. It is minutes from where I live. Every time I am there I marvel at the marvellous teachers and experiences they provide for children.
In Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia (2010), Vea Vecchi explains that Malaguzzi once prophesized teachers to be “professional marvellers” of children (p. 108). As marvellers of children, the teachers at Acorn are not instructors they are observers and documenters of children. They provide experiences that are rich with intelligent materials and they marvel at the children’s resulting strategies and theories. They share their documentation joyfully with others – parents and visitors who too become marvellers of children. I love Malaguzzi’s ways with words … to marvel is to be filled with wonder or astonishment. Rosalba’s passion and the teacher’s dedication produced documentation depicting wonderous experiences that embodied the image of the child as rich in potential, competent and curious in astonishing ways.
Acorn School is small, comfortable and home like. From the delicious smells coming from the kitchen, to the laughter emanating from the classrooms, it is a place of comfort and joy. This is a difficult time for Rosalba and the teachers in the school as parents from the past and current families are expressing their sadness and concern to lose this unique school. Educators who have visited are commenting on Facebook and the comments are a testimony to the influence of the school. A friend and educator from Michigan expressed it well when she said:
For almost nine years, Acorn School has meant so much to so many. It was the site for many professional learning experiences for educators from around the world. For many months, it showcased the wonderful exhibit: Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins. It was the site of two Reggio inspired week long professional learning sessions for teachers that I had the honour to help facilitate. Over the years Acorn School has welcomed many visitors from Dr. George Forman, co-editor of the Hundred Languages of Children and Dr. Ellen Hall of the Boulder Journey School. I loved being there when Margie Carter and Deb Curtis from Harvest Resources visited to see how inspired they were by this wonderful space and place. Suzanne Axelsson of Interaction Imagination from Sweden visited last year and I was so grateful to be at Acorn for two inspiring visits by the great and amazing Lella Gandini, North American Liaison for Reggio Children.
I have a deep affection for the teachers at Acorn – these marvellous marvellers of children. Some I have gotten to know from my many visits to the school. Others I am proud to say were my former students and they know that they have a very special place in my heart. One teacher, in particular I am so proud of as she was many years ago a participant in my thesis research. At the time, she was trying to implement an emergent curriculum in a centre that was less than authentic to it’s stated philosophy of being Reggio influenced. I wondered what lay ahead for this amazing teacher as she struggled to find her own way. She found her way to Acorn and there she blossomed and flourished and became dedicated and passionate about the approach. I think that she would be the first to agree that much of her growth is owed to the mentorship of Rosalba in her role of the school’s pedagogista. When I visit the toddler classroom where this teacher works I always wish I could, just for one day, be a toddler again so I too could feel what it must be like to be loved and marvelled.
I am so grateful to have had Rosalba as a companion and friend for all these years. I know that I may never have discovered this philosophy that has defined my life and practice, if I had not met her. The life of Acorn School is ending but it’s sphere of influence and infectious joy will continue in the hearts and minds of all those who have been a part of it. To Stephanie, Sue, Crystal, Cathy, Rosanna, Hayley, Rachel, Sarah, Tiz and Maria, thank you for welcoming me to your school and making Reggio inspiration visible in so many ways, so many languages. You are an inspiration to me as an early childhood educator. To Rosalba, thank you for your friendship and inspiration. I know Rosalba will emerge from this difficult time of change and will find her path on the journey ahead and will continue to inspire and influence. Please join me in wishing her all the best on the road ahead.