Despite a challenging year for childcare centers overall, and certainly new obstacles created by the global pandemic in the creation of new programs, Wildflower’s budding New Jersey hub has continued to plant and tend to its seeds. We started off this year with the exciting news that Dr. Erika McDowell agreed to come on as our new New Jersey state Site Entrepreneur. Before joining Wildflower, Erika served as an Executive Director and Director of PBIS (positive behavior intervention and supports) and Youth Court for The School District of Philadelphia. She has also been an assistant principal and teacher. Her in-depth experience includes restorative practices, equity, positive behavioral supports, conflict resolution, classroom management, bullying prevention, and behavioral data support. She has a Superintendent’s credential, a EdD in from Drexel University in Educational Leadership and Management, and began her career as a drama teacher in Paterson, NJ, which is where she grew up. Erika will now be supporting New Jersey’s new and existing teacher leaders, as well as developing strategy and funding relationships to support Wildflower’s growth across the state. New Jersey’s first flagship New Jersey program, Lily Montessori Parent Child Center, opened in 2019, managed to stay open (and enrolled!) for most of the year, offering parenting classes to families with children ages 0-3. Meanwhile, Dahlia Montessori Primary, and Sea Lavender Elementary both kept moving forward and are slated to open in fall of 2021, both in Monmouth County, New Jersey. In the northern part of the state, two exciting Teacher Leader teams have been moving their schools along as well, and anticipate an early 2022 opening. Honeypot Montessori is currently looking for a space in Newark, NJ and another great team is working on finding a home near Maplewood, NJ. In her first couple of months, Erika has also focused on bringing more BIPOC teacher leaders into the Wildflower school start-up journey. In March, Erika co-hosted a virtual event centering Black lived Montessori experiences, and started monthly cocktails and mocktails virtual hub gatherings. Wildflower’s northern New Jersey efforts are being supported by partnerships with Overdeck Family Foundation and Burke Foundation, who came in to support our early work in the state, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be able to work with them! Engaging, interactive, and stimulating classroom experiences help pave the way for children’s future success. Wildflower is an innovative approach to deliver high-quality early education, and we are excited about the Wildflower NJ team’s work to build a strong community of Montessori teacher leaders of color. -Ann Ritter, Program Officer, The Burke Foundation We are just getting started here in New Jersey, and look forward to the next year as we seek to build a thriving regional hub of culturally-affirming schools that are community embedded and equity-focused.
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