by Sarah Felstiner, Curriculum Director, Hilltop Children’s Center11070024

This coming weekend Hilltop is hosting our annual summer picnic for current and alumni children and families. As always, it’s a great chance to get together in the Seattle summer (yes, that does actually happen here), and to reconnect with new and old friends. This year, the picnic also serves as a chance to gather alumni in celebration of my 20 years at Hilltop! In that spirit, the photos here were taken from my first classroom at Hilltop, and I’ve been thinking back on a few of the strongest memories that jump to mind, reflecting back on those 20 years…

  • My very first classroom of children – all of whom have now finished college. Caitlin, Camille R, Camille S, Carl, Catherine, Emily, Julia, Sarah, Suzanna, and Tennessee: I love you forever, I like you for always. Thank you for helping to shape who I am as an educator.
  • The fabulous women I worked alongside in early years. Ann, Megan, Liz, Rebecca, Julie, Leslie, Susan, and Margie: thank you for showing me what it means to be a Guardian of Childhood. Also, there was that incident with the leopard-print bra…sunlight front yard
  • The time we had to evacuate all the children after a significant earthquake, and a group of four-year-olds stared at me in disappointment and disbelief that I hadn’t thought to bring the class hamster out with us. “What about Sniffer?” He was fine, thank goodness.
  • The four precious ones who died too young. You are with me always. May your memories be for a blessing.
  • The first time I dropped off my own child in a Hilltop classroom, amazed to have reached that milestone, and grateful that he was stepping into my world for three magical years.

Alongside those personal memories, I’ve also been reflecting on how much Hilltop has changed, in a very gradual way, from a traditional neighborhood preschool to an internationally recognized school of inquiry – a true learning community of children, families and educators. Here are some of the most significant shifts we’ve seen:

  • Twenty years ago, we lived in the attic and basement of a church. Now we’re in an architect-designed space, customized to support our approach.
  • Twenty years ago, each educator taught alone in a classroom, with no paid time to plan or meet. Now we teach in teams of master educators, with many opportunities to reflect and collaborate and grow as professionals.
  • Twenty years ago we used paper, pens and glue-sticks to document children’s work. Now each team of educators has laptops, iPads, cameras, and printers to study and share the stories from our classrooms.
  • Twenty years ago, pay was low, turnover was high, and programming was uneven and inconsistent. Today we have a robust administrative structure, and educators who are well-supported with competitive compensation, professional training, and opportunities for leadership.

I’m most proud that all of this transformation has been led by Hilltop’s classroom educators. Hilltop’s growth didn’t come from a single visionary leader, or a top-down reformation. Ours is a story of gradual, teacher-led change, rooted firmly in our direct experience of and commitment to what children, families, and educators deserve.

chocolate drawerFinally, and possibly most of all, I want to thank Hilltop for embracing, accommodating, enabling and enculturating my deep commitment to chocolate. Here’s to the next twenty years!

Sarah Felstiner is the Curriculum Director at Hilltop Children’s Center, where she has worked since 1995.