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Lizzy Schwartz

Lizzy Schwartz

Years spent at Gladwyne Montessori: 1999-2003

Degrees: B.A. in Sociology (minors in Urban Education Policy & Political Science), University of Pennsylvania; M.S. in Education, Johns Hopkins University 

How did your high school, college, and post-college experiences lead you to your current work?

During my senior year of high school, I was assigned an ethnography paper in English and instructed to visit a place where I would be culturally an outsider. I decided to visit the Philadelphia public high school my mother attended, which had just come off the city’s “persistently dangerous” list. There, I met the principal whose leadership efforts had a noticeable impact on students’ education. I remember feeling moved by my interactions with the school’s seniors, whose anticipation about the future mirrored my own, but whose access to basic educational materials and skills was markedly different than my experiences.

While at Penn, I wanted to learn more about the challenges facing the School District of Philadelphia. I joined student groups to volunteer in west Philadelphia schools, mentoring middle schoolers, tutoring elementary and other Penn students in writing, and teaching an English class at William L. Sayre High School. I chose to study sociology, urban education policy, and political science as different avenues to investigate inequities in the American education system. The culmination of my academic experience at Penn was writing my senior thesis, “Taking a Stand: Opting Out in Urban Philadelphia,” under the guidance of Dr. Annette Lareau. I used qualitative research methods to investigate why a group of Philadelphia parents were choosing to opt their children out of state tests. I felt prepared to succeed at Penn, graduating summa cum laude and winning the Outstanding Sociology Student award. 

After graduation, I taught English in the south of France for a year, living in Avignon and teaching in a village just outside, which is home to a large population of North African immigrants. While the context and language were clearly different, I saw similar themes emerge in France as I had seen in Philadelphia: that some students are better served by better schools than others, and these distinctions tend to fall along the lines of race and socioeconomic status. Further compelled to attempt to provide a high-quality education for all, I joined the Americorps program Urban Teachers in Washington DC, earned an MS in education from Johns Hopkins, and currently teach 4th grade literacy at Ingenuity Prep, a charter school in southeast DC. 

What do appreciate the most about the time you spent at Gladwyne Montessori?

The school fueled both a love of learning and independence in my approach to learning. The self-direction piece was key, having fallen in love with reading at a young age. Gladwyne Montessori allowed me to feel boundless with this passion, which has endured through today. In my current professional role, I’m genuinely excited to spread this enthusiasm when I teach reading to my students.

What did GM instill in you as a person?

At its core, the education I received at Gladwyne Montessori was grounded in kindness. I was taught to feel a sense of responsibility, not only for myself but also for the person to my left and to my right. In Meg and Lois’s class, if one student insulted or put down another, he/she was asked to tell several “put-ups,” driving home the idea that it is each individual’s responsibility to care for the well-being of others. This has endured in how I approach teaching and life: as an American, I feel responsible for the disparate experiences children face in schools, dependent on their zip code.

How might your professional career advance as a result of your Gladwyne Montessori experience along with your current work? 

This is my third year working as a fourth-grade teacher at Ingenuity Prep, which serves one of the highest at-risk student populations in the city. The school is located in an area that has suffered from generational poverty and trauma, but the students I serve are incredibly hardworking, kind, and smart. While the charter school’s systems and structures are quite different than those at Gladwyne Montessori, I try to incorporate the guiding principles and attitudes from my own elementary experience—kindness, curiosity, and humanity above all else. I have come to realize that many of the changes my students most need cannot be made by a teacher in the classroom; rather, structural and systemic inequities present major obstacles to students from low-income backgrounds. I am currently applying to law school with the intention of working in education policy at the local, state, or federal level.