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Faculty Spotlight: Lower School Classroom Teachers

The Lower School at Stuart awakens and celebrates each girl’s unique gifts by immersing her in a safe, nurturing atmosphere that fosters her spiritual, intellectual, and social growth. There is no academic ceiling in the Lower School. We design our lessons and approaches to align where every student is in that moment in time. Our faculty and staff provide a comfortable learning environment where students feel free to take risks, express their authentic selves and practice social awareness and tolerance. Get to know the Lower School classroom teachers below and their passion for teaching at their grade level. Pictured, left to right: Aileen O'Shea, third grade; April Woodhull, kindergarten; Heidi Echternacht, second grade; Karen Poch, junior kindergarten; Tonia Simone, fourth grade; Jane Kim, third grade; Jill Hunt, fourth grade; and Dominique Kucharczuk, first grade. 

Heidi Echternacht, Second Grade: When I first started as a young teacher at Stuart, I admit to being a bit hesitant about an all-girls environment. I thought it might be like being stuck in a perpetual stuffy white-gloved 1950’s world. Over the years, I’ve watched young girls of all kinds enjoy playing in mud, watching worms wiggle and delighting in butterflies, flowers, rocks and the stream. I love that Stuart has two dedicated outdoor free play times throughout each day and where the community is well-versed on best practices about the value of free play for children. My passion for teaching straddles the dynamics of how play and academics intertwine to form the best possible learning conditions for children. Seeing these girls grow in kindness, spirit, teamwork, reading, writing and mathematics, leadership and citizenship is extremely rewarding. My absolute favorite thing about Stuart is how this community works together to help each girl become more of herself. “Love as you love, study and learn, help those who need me, be a friend to all and make wise choices” are the Sacred Heart shortened version of goals for the Lower School and are a wonderful set of “life guidelines” for anyone to live by. 

Jill Hunt, Fourth Grade: I find so much joy in teaching reading and writing. Fourth graders are at an age where they have transitioned from learning to read into reading to learn, and it is exciting! Taking a front-row seat in this amazing process is truly rewarding. My classes are filled with budding authors and book club partners who are brimming with things to share and stories to tell. They are genuinely excited about the work they are doing. The Stuart community is something you just don’t find anywhere else. The girls are like family, supporting one another through challenges and celebrating each other’s successes. This is a special community that I am grateful to be part of.

Jane Kim, Third Grade: Teachers have always been the ones who provided a safe learning space for me where I felt accepted and valued, and I love that I can do the same for my students. I'm so grateful I can share my love of math with my third graders! The best thing about teaching is seeing my students' eyes widen the moment they grasp a new concept. It's amazing to teach a group of girls who find so much excitement in discussing mathematical concepts and strategies. In our class, we emphasize the importance of having a growth mindset as we encounter new challenges. Sometimes we can feel stuck when working on a math problem. In those moments, I remind my students that they already have the tools they need to work out the problem. Rather than revealing the answer right away, we discuss our thinking and the strategies we can use to find a solution. Stuart is a special place where girls can learn that there are no limits to what they can achieve. An all-girls education helps our students grow up with confidence in their own abilities and provides opportunities for them to be a leader in every field. Stuart girls are just incredible because they are proactive learners who are constantly looking for new ways to push boundaries and expand their knowledge. It's such an honor to support these girls and be a part of their educational journey!

Dominique Kucharczuk, First Grade: I remember the first time I walked past Christ Pillar and the green bricks at Stuart- there was a sense of magic and joy in the air. Girls were giggling in the hallway, and every person had a smile on their face. My passion for elementary education is centered around connection- capturing each student’s interest and letting joy be the vehicle that drives learning. My most important job as a first grade teacher is ensuring that each student loves school and feels empowered to develop her independence. It is essential that each girl loves coming to school, connecting with her peers, and having a deep connection with the curriculum she is learning. In our all-girls environment, girls are encouraged to be themselves and are given leadership opportunities at every stage, all while participating in academically challenging experiences and building relationships. Saint Madeleine Sophie truly said it best: “Let us respect childhood; let us honor the soul of that small creature of God who can already make choices of the best if we take the time to awaken her reason and make her use her judgment.”

Aileen O’Shea, Third Grade: I love teaching third grade reading and writing, especially here at Stuart! Spending the day with enthusiastic eight and nine-year-old girls and helping them along their reading and writing journeys is very rewarding. As a teacher, my goal is to create a classroom full of students who love reading and are able to talk about what they are reading in deeper, more detailed ways. Our classroom book clubs helps to create a positive interest about books and support and guide our reading discussions. Students take ownership of their reading by choosing a book to read together and then they decide and agree on how many pages to read each night. This provides an opportunity for accountability and sparks a social buzz around reading. Also, each student responds to a question about their reading that fuels our class discussions. It’s fun to watch a student come in as a hesitant reader in September and leave becoming a book lover by the end of the year. I love to see my students get excited about learning, to see them grow as readers and writers, and to introduce them to multiple genres. I spend my summers researching and reading new chapter books to add to our classroom book club library that I think my students will enjoy. I am grateful to teach third grade at Stuart and to support these young thinkers!

Karen Poch, Junior Kindergarten: Teaching Junior Kindergarten at Stuart allows me to witness firsthand what active learning, independent thinking, and cooperative peer interaction looks like in four and five-year-olds. Our play-based approach to classroom learning coupled with ample time for outdoor exploration makes our Junior Kindergarten program an exciting and positive experience for young learners. I enjoy guiding the children as they grow and develop through our many multi-sensory activities and centers. Discovering new and creative ways to advance language acquisition, sensory-motor, fine motor skills, and social/emotional development makes teaching JK both challenging and rewarding. 

Tonia Simone, Fourth Grade: I am so fortunate to teach here at Stuart Country Day School. The first time I walked into Millie’s Garden, I knew there was something different -  an energy that you do not find anywhere else. The multidisciplinary approach to education gives each of our girls an opportunity to excel. I am lucky enough to teach all of the fourth graders math and social studies. Our favorite days are when we are exploring a new concept in our math workshop. I love teaching math using games and hands-on activities. Our rigorous fourth grade curriculum covers so many mathematical concepts. It is amazing to see the look in my students' eyes when they are proud of their work and want to share their learning with their classmates. The Stuart community allows for each student to feel comfortable taking risks. We encourage each other to be our best selves. At an all-girls school, you are surrounded by your sisters. The girls love and support each other always. A big part of my job is preparing my students to transition into middle school. The growth I see from the beginning of the year to the end is so rewarding. 

April Woodhull, Kindergarten: I love teaching Kindergarten! The look of wonder and curiosity on the young girls' faces as they enter the classroom on the first day of school fills me with joy. It is beyond doubt the best way I can think of to spend my days. I thoroughly enjoy teaching the girls about things they have never thought of before. I appreciate their newfound knowledge as I witness their "Oh, now I get it"  moments as they make connections to new materials. Five and six-year-olds are busy forming new friendships, testing their boundaries, and becoming socially and emotionally responsible. It is a lot of work for our whole classroom the first few months, but their accomplishments make my heart filled with appreciation for the growth they show in such a short time. Their faces light up as they realize that they can write their name, add items together, or read a word! The girls work hard to learn the material presented to them, and they are so proud of themselves when they've accomplished a task. It warms my heart to see their smiling faces as they hold up a project they are proud of or tell me something they have learned that day.