By Mia Epstein Back-to-school season ….
By Mia Epstein
Back-to-school season has quickly come upon us and the school spirit is in the air. Preschool teacher Jill Dawson, a long-time Glen Ellen resident, has been teaching for over 35 years. She first opened Rainbow Garden Preschool in Santa Rosa, and later moved it next to her home in Glen Ellen. When she was invited to move her program and become a part of Kenwood School in 2015, she was happy to join the supportive team there. When the 2017 fire came through her neighborhood, she lost her home as well as her former preschool building. Post-fire, not only is she glad she had moved her program — she will always be grateful for the incredible generosity and kindness she received from both the Kenwood and Glen Ellen communities.
Dawson’s teaching goals are to get kids excited about learning and school, and to help them become good problem solvers. With students so young, instilling a love for learning is important because it is the foundation for the rest of their years in school. Practicing problem solving in many situations is another lifelong skill. In addition to her degree in Early Childhood Education, Dawson is passionate about art, music, and environmental education, and enjoys finding ways to weave them all into the curriculum.
She still loves teaching now, even more than when she first began.
She finds it exciting to stay in the moment with kids and is passionate about playbased learning. The kids drive much of the program, and “Ms. Jill” notes their interests and observations, then incorporates those interests into the study. Curriculum is ever-changing and often surprising. When the kids fell in love with a book about a little rabbit who worried about being followed by his shadow, a whole exploration of shadows began. One year many children were interested in things in the air, including butterflies, paper airplanes, helicopters, flying bugs, and more. When the fifth graders shot off their Estes rockets, the preschoolers were by the fence watching. As a final event, a hot air balloon company was invited to inflate a balloon right on the soccer field at the school while the entire school enjoyed the sight.
Teaching during the pandemic has been a challenge. For most of last year, boxes were filled with easy-touse activity supplies that were picked up weekly. Short Zooms with a few kids at a time allowed distanced children to connect a tiny bit. It was a huge relief when the program returned in late spring with an entirely outside, in-person curriculum. This 2021-22 school year, the program is both inside and outside, and kids are masked.
Dawson has a great team, working alongside assistant teacher Maresa Kimball and the preschool office manager Jennifer Stenerson. They all love having conversations with preschoolers because they are so creative and will often say insightful and hilarious things. The teacher’s office has a beloved collection of quotes!
Dawson is a joyful woman with stories to tell and lessons to discover with her students. Through her many years of teaching, she has become an integral part of the community and has helped many students enjoy learning.