Influencers: Grace Preschool

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Tami James, Director | Grace Preschool  

Tami James assumes the role of Grace Preschool‘s Director, following in the footsteps of her predecessor of 32 years. Tami brings a wealth of experience as a first grade teacher since 2007 and, most recently, Gilman School’s Director of Early Childhood of Education. This, in addition to raising four elementary school-aged children, makes her uniquely qualified for her new role.

What drew you to education?
I wanted to be a teacher my whole life. I taught Sunday school with my mom when I was in high school and loved it. Early childhood education has been in my heart for as long as I can remember. I began teaching first grade in the Dominican Republic right out of college, and four years later, I found myself teaching at Gilman. I have been a teacher for 17 years, the last 13 were at Gilman School. Most of my teaching career was spent in a first grade classroom, and it is really true what they say, I learned much more from my students than they learned from me. My students taught me how to be empathetic, flexible, and creative, all necessary traits to be the director of a preschool. As the director of early childhood at Gilman, I worked on creating the budget, worked with architects to design spaces for little ones, purchased curriculum, and did extensive research on developmentally appropriate practices. Those experiences prepared me for my new role, but they also lit a fire inside me and unleashed a passion for working with the youngest students and their families.

What do you like about your current school?
I am most excited about taking over a program that has strong roots, with developmentally appropriate teaching, loving teachers, and a welcoming community. Grace’s tight-knit community is one of the things that most attracted me to the school. When the pandemic hit, I was still teaching, and I knew firsthand how challenging it was to teach little children virtually. Grace’s previous director, Barbara Blair, kept me in the loop about what the teachers were doing. I was astounded by what they were able to accomplish with their young students! The teachers at Grace went above and beyond. They gathered materials, provided pickup times for parents, and most often, they hand-delivered materials to their students’ doorsteps. The teachers were concerned about losing the connection with their students and parents, so face-to-face distanced deliveries helped solidify that strong relationship. My favorite images from distance learning at Grace have everything to do with relationships. Teachers delivering Easter baskets to students, parents giving teacher appreciation gifts, and a kindergarten graduation parade highlight how Grace handled distance learning during the pandemic.

What do you hope to achieve in your role?
Ironically, when I accepted the position of Director at Grace Preschool, COVID-19, social distancing, and pandemic were not a part of my everyday vernacular. My goals for Grace had nothing to do with a global pandemic! My goals had everything to do with taking over a school, embracing the teachers, families, and students, and providing a traditional pre-school program with extended hours in hopes that teachers of Baltimore would have a preschool to send their children that had teacher-friendly hours so they could do what they do best – love and teach their students during the day, and as soon as possible love and care for their children each evening. I still have plans to accomplish the aforementioned goals, but for now, my main hope is to provide a safe environment for children to learn in the midst of a global pandemic. The teachers and I have been working hard to prepare several different scenarios for when we open in the fall. There will be new policies and procedures in place this year to ensure the health and safety of our students. Additionally, we formed a task force, and it is meeting throughout the summer to plan for the fall. Its goals include mapping out the curriculum for each age level and incorporating new methods of teaching into each unit should we move to distance learning again. When our doors open in September, our primary goal will be to cultivate relationships and trust with everyone in the Grace community.

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