An Interview with Nellie

2020 was a big year to try new things here at Parker. In the lower school, we created a stand alone Kindergarten, and we welcomed 5th grade into our middle school. This year also saw the creation of a new 3rd and 4th grade combined class here at Parker, led by Nellie Barker. Nellie lives in Averill Park with her husband, John, and her 10-year-old son (and Parker 5th grader), Will. Prior to teaching at Parker, Nellie taught students ranging from 4th – 8th grades in both public and private schools in New York and Vermont. In her spare time, she loves gardening, hiking, exercising, being in nature, coaching, cooking, art, and watching her son play sports. Please read on to learn more about Nellie, in her own words…
How did you get in to teaching?
“Teaching embodies all the things I love so much about life: helping others and being a part of children’s lives in a meaningful way. I always felt I needed to teach. “Be the difference you wish to see in the world” has always been my philosophy. I genuinely love impacting others and the world in a positive way. It makes me feel so good to see other people light up. Teaching is a passion of mine because it involves presenting material in creative ways, thinking outside the box to tap into all different styles of learning, and being a good role model. Children are magical holders of our future, and to have the privilege to be part of carving their future is something I feel so honored to be trusted with.”
What drew you to Parker School?“I had an absolute vision of my dream school in mind for years. I was actually in the midst of creating my own school, but I ran into road blocks including financing, location, etc. So I decided that I need to find my dream work environment, and that maybe it already existed. When I interviewed at Parker, it checked each box for everything I was looking for in a school: absolutely for real hands-on learning, professional and creative colleagues that want to work as a team, a school setting where using the outdoors is encouraged, and a place that wouldn’t laugh at me for having a tree with fairy lights in my classroom! But the real kicker for me was the room with the snowshoes. I literally teared up when I saw that little gear room in the Discovery Center. I knew that this was my home.”
Describe your educational philosophy? “I really believe every child wants to learn and is a natural learner. As an educator, I pride myself in getting to know my students personally and figuring out what each of them needs to be successful. I absolutely love creating lessons that are engaging and bring out the best in each child. My number one goal is to spark joy and love of learning in every student. Every child has it…it’s up to us to find each child’s unique key.”
What do you like about teaching at Parker? 
“Everything. I. Am. Serious!!! I was amazed at my very first opening days when staff shared ideas and goals for the year. The creativity and thought that is put into what happens in each classroom is profound, and it makes me want to do my very best here. I love how I can use the outdoors, and that there is no deadline for every lesson taught. I can use the gifts I have to offer, and I feel appreciated for being me. I love this! Everyone has been super supportive and loving. The way in which Jennifer Gresens checks in with me to support me is so refreshing. I feel so incredibly grateful to be here.”
What do you enjoy specifically about the age and developmental stage of the kids you work with?
“Teaching 3rd and 4th graders is full of excitement. There is never a dull moment! I love how curious students are at this age, and how they love to learn. I feel like my transition to teaching 3rd grade instead of 5th has allowed me to be more creative in cross-curricular projects, including adding art components to much of what we are doing. My students still love to pretend when they play, and they interact with nature in such creative and magical ways. For example, my class worked together to build a “gym” in the woods with a weight bench, a push up bench, and more! They made everything out of natural materials and had this idea all on their own! With all of the diverse learning styles at this level, I am always on my toes in search of the most creative and engaging project ideas. And so many times, ideas are sparked from students themselves — which is pure magic!”
What is happening in your classroom right now?
“A lot! We have been doing a semester-long project focusing on how humans impact water, specifically coral reefs. Students spent the past several months in investigative research and building a coral reef in our classroom out of paper maché and all kinds of creative materials. To culminate this unit study, we are doing a mock town hall meeting as a form of authentic assessment. The situation is this: A luxurious hotel is coming to Ruhe Island. In order to make this hotel, mangrove forests are being cut down, which will have devastating ramifications on the healthy reefs surrounding the island. (Students have learned that mangrove forests essentially filter out pollutants and sediments, protecting reefs.) In our town hall, students will be playing roles, including government officials, owners and investors of the hotel, community members, teachers, students, scientists, architects and more. Critical thinking is a hallmark of my classroom, and students are taught to dig deeper and form their own conclusions. Ultimately, there may be varying opinions about Hotel Signirio coming to Ruhe Island, but hopefully compromise can also happen.”
What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
“While this year looks different for many reasons on the outside, my heart is still very centered for this school year on my “always” goals. It is essential to me that my students have a true love of learning in my class, that they wonder, are inquisitive, and push further to find true answers — not just what’s popular. I hope for my students to find peace and joy being in my class and here together at Parker. I emphatically am setting my intention to be here physically in school for the entire year. Seeing the joy that students have at Parker is heartwarming and contagious. For each day that we are here together, I am grateful.”