#CapstoneConnections – Eric Heil

March is a month to celebrate change and growth, and it is in that spirit that we shine our spotlight on Eric Heil, one of our 2014 graduates. His Montessori journey started early, planting roots that never quite left him.

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Above: Eric and his sister in DC, where both of them live.

Give us a little background on yourself. Where did you grow up? When did you decide to become a Montessori teacher?

I grew up in the Napa Valley in northern California.  Grape growing and Montessori were integral to my childhood.  I was born in Sacramento while my father was studying viticulture at UC Davis, and we moved to Napa shortly thereafter for him to pursue a career in the wine business.  It was there, in my hometown of St. Helena, that my mother and her sister founded St. Helena Montessori School in 1981.  I was a member of one of the first classes to graduate – I think we were three students.  My love for the Montessori approach goes as far back as I can remember.  It was so fun to be at school and to learn about things that were fascinating to us as children.  We were very independent and extremely interested in the world around us.  I attended St. Helena Montessori School from pre-k through 6th grade and then attended public schools through high school.  Upon transitioning to traditional public school, I recall being shocked when I found my peers didn’t enjoy school.

After college, I decided to join Teach For America, and that is what launched my career as a teacher.  I saw the opportunity to teach in some of our nation’s neediest schools as something I didn’t want to miss. Part of the reason I chose to teach was because I had been inspired by two tremendous teachers as an undergrad – Warren Pulich and Joe Mueller.  Warren taught me about birds, and Joe taught me about mammals.  Both men were experts at what they did and even as mature adult men, they were still thrilled to share their wonder for the natural world – oftentimes with a zany flair.  I taught math and science for two years in the Bronx, New York, but all the while I was in traditional schools, I knew Montessori was a model I preferred.

Several years (and schools) later, having moved to Washington DC, I decided to finally take the plunge and do the Montessori Elementary Training.  It was like coming home.  I was encouraged by my aunt, who had originally trained as a Montessori teacher in Bergamo, Italy, and by my mother who still runs the school they started.  Having personally taught in several types of traditional schools, both public and private, I realized oftentimes traditional schools can work against the child and actually thwart his development.  Montessori had been such a key part of my upbringing (and is such a beautiful and organic approach to begin with) that taking the training was almost something I couldn’t avoid.

What were some of the factors in your decision to study at WMI, specifically?

I decided to study at WMI primarily because it is an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) training institute.  AMI was founded by Maria Montessori and is the institution she designed to train teachers, accredit schools, and perpetuate the insights of her method in their entirety.  In addition to this, WMI is located in the DC metropolitan area, where I reside.  Finally, the reputation of the teacher trainers at WMI was very strong.  Dr. Kay Baker was at WMI when I first grew interested, and my aunt strongly encouraged me to take the elementary training from her.  It was an added bonus that Janet McDonnell was teaching Primary there, as she had taught my cousins in southern California.  I attended an open house at WMI and it was a terrific experience.  I met the trainers, saw the pristine and inviting classroom environments, and even met Trevis, one of my future fellow trainees.  WMI is the oldest AMI training institute in the country and had a terrific reputation – I found it exceeded my expectations.

Tell us about your experience (highlights/challenges) in Baltimore at Loyola over the summer. Was it difficult to complete the capstone in such a short amount of time?

There were definitely pros and cons to the summer program.  For me personally, living in DC all summer and going to Baltimore for classes was a bit of a challenge, but the commute was also a time to decompress, and catch up on the news.  Most of my classmates lived on or near campus, and that seemed to go well for them.  Having the all-Montessori cohort in our classes was a definite highlight.  We met Montessorians from across the country and had courses which were more or less tailored to the Montessori approach.  This greatly enhanced the benefit of the general education coursework.

It was an intense time of study and research, but I was more interested in being immersed in the content and finishing in a short period of time rather than prolonging the process with a part-time program.  The capstone paper we wrote was a very rewarding undertaking.  I was able to conduct a thorough literature review on a topic that interested me (Nature Deficit Disorder), and then synthesize my findings in a scholarly paper.  The research class and capstone paper helped us to think beyond the soundbites and headlines involving issues in education and gave us the ability to think for ourselves and undergird our understanding with evidence from the scientific literature.  Overall, the capstone program was arduous, but I found the level of difficulty to be appropriate and not overwhelming.

Where are you now? Are you facing any challenges in your career?

I am currently teaching at The Heights School, in Potomac, Maryland.  I love the school and find working there to be very fulfilling.  Of course there are challenges – teaching is inherently challenging.  I have had experience working with children in Mill Valley, California and in Monterrey, Mexico.  I was a homeroom teacher in a public middle school in the Bronx, New York and have worked with inner-city youth in Washington DC for about 10 years.  I teach in an all-boys independent school and no matter where I have taught, I find that children have the same basic needs.  They all seek to understand the world around them and want to know how they can play a meaningful role in society.  Teaching can be exhausting, humiliating, and hidden.  We spend a lot of time preparing our classrooms, thinking about the children and what each one needs, and then giving lessons throughout the day, and we handle a fair amount of abuse.  It takes a toll.

It is poetic justice that I have to deal with a rowdy group of nine to twelve year olds each day because I wasn’t exactly a model student myself.  I probably caused several teachers headaches back in my day, so now I get to be on the receiving end.  However, as you mature as a teacher, you realize that the goal is to have your students become active themselves and progress on their own.  Montessori would say that the teacher can be inspired by the thoughts of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  That is how we have to approach our students: this isn’t about me, it’s about the child.

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Above: Eric with four former 4th grade students during a service project in Peru last summer.

Do you have any advice for current students in our program?

Enjoy your days of training!  I know it can be overwhelming, but I encourage you to pour your heart and soul into preparing yourself as a teacher.  The AMI training is rigorous, but it is a thing of beauty.  I spent numerous all-nighters (and none due to procrastination), but I don’t regret a single moment of all the work.  I recall so many moments: painting charts (preferably with friends); doing illustrations; redoing illustrations; soaking up the lectures; and endless hours of write-ups—it was all so worthwhile.  I would do it again.  If you are feeling down and need some inspiration, call up some fellow trainees and go out and unwind.  Better yet, if you have time, go observe in a Montessori classroom.  You are getting a top notch preparation for a simply sublime line of work.  Finally, I would encourage you to join the new group we have founded – WMI Alumni & Friends.  Graduates of AMI and other teachers in the area are here to support and assist you.  We look forward to meeting you and are happy to share our experiences.

What’s one thing that not many people know about you?

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Above: Quite the “snap” shot of Eric and a toothy, tough-tailed friend!

I studied the nutrition of the southern sea otter while working at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.  This was a dream of a job – collecting prey specimens along the central coast of my native California, and then conducting analysis in the Nutrition Lab of the National Zoo.  I probably dreamt of working in a zoo from the time I was in Montessori primary, and the dream came true.  The one regret I have is that I turned down a subsequent job offer to study Weddell seals in Antarctica.  I was back in the classroom by then, and it seemed a bit too out there to spend several months on the fast ice for “perhaps a small stipend.”  Maybe one of my students will end up in McMurdo Station and he can tell me all about it. 

Our favorite insight: The research class and capstone paper helped us to think beyond the soundbites and headlines involving issues in education and gave us the ability to think for ourselves and undergird our understanding with evidence from the scientific literature. -Eric Heil


Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”



Travel Diaries – Montessori Model UN 2017

Director Jack Rice reflects on his trip to NYC last weekend, where he presented on teacher leadership at the 2017 Montessori Model United Nations event.



I was honored to be given the opportunity to speak to teachers and parents at the Montessori Model United Nations event held in New York City last week. My topic was teacher leadership; which was the epitome of preaching to the choir. Leadership coursed through the event, from the teachers who led the not insignificant charge to make MMUN a reality for their students, to the Session Coordinators (senior students who led the simulations). Then there were the students themselves. My favorite part of the event was watching the students in committee sessions organizing themselves, discussing issues and caucusing with representatives for other countries. I was inspired by the ability of the students to build consensus and solve problems. On the last day, the students left the Marriott at Times Square and embarked on their final destination, the United Nations building, to complete their tasks and to finalize their resolutions and commitments.

Overall I was struck by the size of the event: over 150 schools were represented by students, teachers and chaperones from around the world. It is experiences such as MMUN that all children should have; a student leaves feeling a deeper connection to all nations and to humanity. They also must realize that the Montessori movement is huge and global; perhaps they were told that already, but five days in New York with a thousand of their brothers and sisters from around the planet must drive home the point.

I have always felt that Education was much more like farming than manufacturing, and as I boarded the Amtrak back to Baltimore my thoughts were with the MMUN and what fruit may come from the seeds that were planted at the event.



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I like teachers.

I like them because they stand a post.

It is not difficult these days to find an educational pundit, someone with myriad solutions to dubious problems, garnered from a lifetime of barely understanding what is actually going on. I prefer the practitioner.

So when Dr. Mark Lewis and Melissa Mulieri invited me to speak to Loyola’s Elementary Education Capstone class on the topic of Montessori Education, I jumped at the chance to share the story of Dr. Montessori’s life and work.

The conversation did not disappoint. The questions from the group were topical and profound. In a group of teachers I feel at home – because the conversation always flows to what is developmentally appropriate for students and the higher purpose we strive for as Educators.

It reminded me of two moments.

The first was at McGill University in Montreal on the first day of my own education capstone class. One of the professors told us, “soon you will join the ranks of teachers, and in so doing you will call amongst your colleagues some of the finest people in the world.” I remember few direct quotes from my University studies, but that one has stuck.

The second was at the Toronto Montessori Institute where I was welcomed into a new community of educators and invited to share in a journey of rediscovering the child. It’s a quest of which I am still in pursuit.

So thank you, Dr. Lewis, Ms. Mulieri, and students. I wish you every success in your careers.

The future is in good hands.






#CapstoneConnections – Jan Heyrana

jan-heyrana-original-resize As the weather is warming up (already?!) here in Baltimore, it’s easy to think back to the heat of last summer and the buzz around campus as so many of our Montessori trainees prepare to set out into the world on the cosmic task of continually discovering the child. One such eager graduate was Jan Heyrana, who completed her Primary training at the Washington Montessori Institute in Columbia, MD.

Give us a little background on yourself. Where did you grow up? When did you decide to become a Montessori teacher?

I was born in the Philippines and my family moved to the United States when I was two years old. I grew up in the Northern Virginia area right outside of Washington, DC. I have always been very passionate about children and I knew I wanted a career serving children- I just didn’t know what that career was going to be until after I graduated college and became an assistant at a Montessori school. I did my research and found Washington Montessori Institute at Loyola University. I loved my training and fell in love with the Montessori philosophy!

Tell us about your experience in Baltimore over the summer. Was it difficult to complete the capstone in such a short amount of time? Did you enjoy the on-campus experience?

I really enjoyed my experience in Baltimore over the summer. Loyola University’s Evergreen Campus is absolutely gorgeous and it was the perfect environment for me to complete the capstone in just a month. It was so wonderful being surrounded by other Montessorians from all over the country and from all levels.

I really appreciated the fact that all of my professors were either AMI trained or had personal and professional experiences with AMI. They applied Montessori theories to their lectures which in turn helped me apply what I learned over the summer in my own classroom.

I enjoyed all the fun events such as the cocktail party, attending the Orioles game, and lunch at Dean Smith’s house! I made so many great friends and colleagues during my time in Baltimore.

I understand that you’ve been working at a Montessori school in Virginia. How do you like being in the classroom?

I am working at an AMI school in my hometown and I absolutely love it! The administration and staff have been so supportive of me during my first year teaching. The children are so wonderful and I look forward to going to work every day! I feel lucky and blessed to have found a career that I truly enjoy.

Do you have any advice for current students in our program?

Enjoy your time training and completing the capstone in Baltimore over the summer! It might seem like a lot of work and it might feel really overwhelming, but it will all pay off once you’re in the classroom. Everything you learn will be applied when you become a teacher!

Loyola’s Fitness and Aquatic Center is incredible and be sure to check out the Govanstowne Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays!

Many thanks to Jan for sharing her experience with us!

Our favorite insight: I really appreciated the fact that all of my professors were either AMI trained or had personal and professional experiences with AMI. They applied Montessori theories to their lectures which in turn helped me apply what I learned over the summer in my own classroom.” – Jan Heyrana


Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”

#CapstoneConnections – Maria Santoyo

ball-gameWe are excited to announce our new blog project, “Capstone Connections”! Each month, we will feature interviews with our Montessori graduates (both current and alumni) so that readers can learn more about our program through personal accounts of the experience. We hope you enjoy!!

Our first story comes to us from Maria Santoyo (’16), who completed her Primary training at the International Montessori Training Institute (IMTI) in Atlanta and graduated from Loyola in 2016.

Tell us about your journey as a student. What made you want to become a teacher?

I have always been drawn to the idea of truly making a difference in our world. Looking back, there was one teacher in particular who inspired me to pursue the opportunity to change lives for the better. He was my 4th grade teacher, and he became a beacon of inclusion and ambition for me. I had just moved to the States and my English was, let’s just say, less than useful! But in his classroom, there wasn’t a single thing I couldn’t achieve. I realize now, especially amidst such a divisive time in our country, how his kindness played a monumental role in who I am today. There are many ways to make a difference in the world, but helping a child develop confidence and self-worth is the most beautiful way to do it.

I am a firm believer of Maria Montessori’s quote, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.” I am incredibly proud to follow in the footsteps of many great educators and leaders who fight to make our world a more peaceful and inclusive place. This is just the beginning of my contribution to what still is a long fight ahead of us.

When did you first venture into Montessori training, and what were your reasons for doing so?

My mother was a Montessorian, so I was a Montessori child and have been around it ever since. It came as the most natural transition to earn my AMI diploma and get involved in early childhood development. I completed my training shortly after my graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Congratulations on surviving the Montessori Summer Session! What were some of the highlights of your experience during those four weeks?

It was tough! But so worth it. There are many times when I have to stop and remind myself that it actually happened; it went by so quickly. I had heard both sides about whether it was better to take on the summer session immediately after training or not, but for me personally, it was definitely the right decision to do it right away. My brain was already in gear and I was used to the long study/work schedule from training.

One of the coolest parts of the summer session was coming together as a group with people from all around the country to finalize our studies. To know that every single person there was just as devoted to pursuing Montessori education and making a difference for future generations was such a unifying feeling. Not to mention the professors and advisors from Loyola who worked so closely with us the 4 weeks we were there and shared their passion for education with us.

Now that you have completed the M.Ed. through Loyola, do you have any thoughts or concerns you want to share about our program?

It was very helpful to have had the check-ins with Jack while we were at training. If it hadn’t been for that I would have felt very out of place when I got there. I had to remember to look at the bigger picture!

Do you have any hobbies you would like to tell us about?

Language is my other passion. I grew up trilingual and aspire to know 10 languages proficiently by the time I’m 30 years old. My vision is to combine language immersion and Montessori to create the ideal learning environment for children! It is so important to have exposure to other cultures other than one’s own, and language is a beneficial way to do just that. Instilling in children a sense of inclusion and appreciation for others could very well be the answer to a peaceful future. Currently, I am in charge of the Spanish program at Chesterfield Montessori School in St. Louis, which I recently founded.

Thanks, Maria, for sharing your story!

Our favorite insight:  “There are many ways to make a difference in the world, but helping a child develop confidence and self-worth is the most beautiful way to do it.” – Maria Santoyo


Loyola University Maryland ~ “Strong Truths Well Lived”