Sandy Valley resident is director of a school with Italian roots

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"I'm a self-proclaimed education junky," said Magnolia resident Susie Clark-Maioriello. "I have spent my entire life researching styles and philosophies of education, and I finally get to put it all to great use."

That is because this first-grade teacher, who holds a master's degree, was recently appointed director of the Weaver Child Development Center, a Reggio-inspired Christian preschool and primary school (currently teaching children, from 2-year old through third grade). The Weaver CDC has been a "lab school" for education majors on the campus of Malone University for more than 38 years; but last summer, the university announced several budget cuts, and the Weaver CDC was given notice that this school year would be its last.

"The parents and families decided immediately that this very unique little school was not going to end after this year," stated Clark-Maioriello. "It's truly amazing what a good dose of faith and a whole lot of dedication can do."

As a result of that "good dose of faith and whole lot of dedication," during the upcoming summer months, the Weaver CDC will move to its new home on the 50-acre Fieldcrest Estate in North Canton.

"This beautiful and idyllic setting is absolutely ideal for our Reggio-inspired philosophy and style of teaching," says Clark-Maioriello.

So what does "Reggio-inspired" mean anyway? Clark-Maioriello explains: "Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy which is known for its unique approach to educating children. The basic idea in this philosophy is that children are smart, creative individuals who can build theories, test them out and learn from them, alongside their teachers and peers in a safe and comfortable environment. We believe that children learn more efficiently and effectively when they are co-creators of their own knowledge in a hands-on, sensory-rich environment where they are allowed to find their interests, develop ideas, create hypotheses and experiment to see if they were right. In essence, we believe that children learn best from experiences, not worksheets."

The Weaver CDC is the only Reggio-inspired school in the area and one of only a handful in the state of Ohio.

The Reggio philosophy seems avant-garde or cutting-edge to those who are accustomed to a traditional educational model. After all, when you walk into a Reggio-inspired classroom, you will not see desks lined up in rows facing forward. You will see students engaged in various projects, games and experiments.

"It's innovative to some, I suppose. But to us, it's just common sense," says Clark-Maioriello. "This environment allows kids to learn at their own pace…and oftentimes, that pace is faster than anyone expected. It is perfect for kids who like to try things, move around, and get involved rather than to just sit and listen to someone else talk. And that's why we will continue to serve as a lab school for Education majors from several local universities…so we can teach these future teachers the most effective ways to teach.

"I've always dreamed of having my own school," continues Clark-Maioriello. "And after all these years of researching, studying, and teaching students ranging from preschool through adults in various schools, I can personally attest to the Reggio style as being the very best way for children to really learn…not to memorize or to be 'taught for the test'…but to really learn, understand, and grasp concepts. It's such a blessing to be the director of this amazing school right now. It's a dream come true!

"Being at Fieldcrest gives us so many new and wonderful opportunities that we haven't had in the past. Our students will be able to explore, experience and enjoy the outdoors so much more at Fieldcrest (after all, Mother Nature is a great teacher in the Reggio philosophy); and at the request of our families, we hope to ultimately be able to teach up to sixth grade or higher. This is truly a match made in heaven."

Registrations for the 2013-14 school year begn on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and already some classes have almost reached their capacity. The Weaver CDC is hosting its first open house since 2009 (and its last in the current location on the Malone Campus) on Thursday, Feb. 21, from 6-8:30. Parenting expert, author and syndicated-columnist Diana Boggia will give a presentation with simple and inspiring ideas to improve behavior at home. The adults-only presentation is free, but reservations are required by calling the school office at 330-471-8264. Private tours are also available.

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