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Meet Angie Triana

Today we’d like to introduce you to Angie Triana.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Aspirations School of Learning was founded in April of 2008. Our school was a family owned school, and our building was designed with the concept of creating open areas with natural lighting; inviting spaces for children to explore and grow. We started our journey with a strong belief in the Reggio Emilia-inspired teaching philosophy and we continue to grow as a Reggio-inspired school, however not in Reggio Emilia, Italy, but in Carlsbad, CA. Our focus on this teaching philosophy means we are rooted in the belief that children are capable and resilient, full of wonder and knowledge. The image of the child is respected and always a focus. Parents, teachers and the classroom environments are all considered the teachers in a Reggio-inspired program and contribute to the learning that young children experience. We encourage collaboration and conversation, and give children and teachers the opportunity to think outside the box and enjoy an emergent curriculum. We started with 10 classrooms and 9 children. We now fill all of our classrooms, from infants through Kindergarten, and can have 176 children at our school daily. In December 2019, Aspirations was acquired by Bright Horizons Family Solutions. While we are now owned by a large company, our school philosophy has not changed and the important work that we do with young children has not changed.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
When we initially opened, we struggled for a short time with enrollment, but the need for quality childcare in the community was there, so the struggle was short-lived. Our biggest challenge since 2008 has been our abrupt closure due to Covid-19 in March 2020, followed by our subsequent re-opening in June 2020 and learning how to continue to provide the rich experiences for children and families. A large part of being a Reggio-inspired school is involving parents in the process – they are integral in contributing to their child’s education. Since parents haven’t been able to come into our school since March 2020, we have had to think of alternative ways to make the learning visible as well as give them ways to contribute. The link between school and home is important to us. Think how difficult it must be for a parent of a young child to drop them off outside the front door of school and not be able say good morning to a teacher, see what is set up for the day in the classroom, and after school, get a firsthand glimpse into how their child’s day was. We’ve had to rely heavily on technology for keeping parents informed. Luckily, Bright Horizons has recognized this need for all of their schools and have a wonderful app for parent communication. Still, nothing beats the real thing! Couple that with parents worried about bringing children back into larger group environments, children having to wear masks, teachers having to wear masks, social distancing, health and safety checks, enhanced cleaning protocols, limited group sizes, teachers who couldn’t work because they were taking care of their own family members or were concerned about getting sick……….we wondered how we would ever go back to “normal” and be able to focus on what we were meant to focus on, the image of the child.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I don’t know if you really want to know about me, so I’ll tell you a little and then diverge. I have a B.S. degree in Microbiology and never imagined in a million years that I would be Executive Director of a preschool. I’ve worked in research laboratories, but most of my professional career was spent as a pharmaceutical sales representative in San Diego. My husband and I were friends of the family who started Aspirations and we were investors in the business. At the time we opened the school, I had taken time off to be a mom and my almost 3 year old little girl and was going to attend school at Aspirations, so I was going to help get the business off the ground. Little did I know how rewarding the career was and I went back to school to study child development and became qualified to be a school director. I started at Aspirations as a toddler teacher for 3 hours a day, shortly thereafter moved into the Admissions Director role, then on to Senior Director and now with Bright Horizons, my title is Executive Director. As an administrative role, it satisfies my need to be a successful business person, but it also gives me the chance to just enjoy watching childhood happen. I’m a workaholic- that sets me apart from others – and I have high standards. I’m also a very caring person, easy for my employees to talk to, and I truly want these children, these families, and my teachers to have the best experiences possible.

I’m not the only administrator at Aspirations and definitely have to share credit with two others who have been at Aspirations since 2008. Mare Williams helped to open the school and has been in the Director role since the start. Mare holds a M.A. degree in Human Development with a Specialization in Leadership in Education along with over 10 years of experience teaching in an early childhood classroom. She has traveled extensively in Italy and fell in love with the Reggio teaching philosophy, well before Aspirations was born. She shares her knowledge with our parents and our teachers daily. As with me, the success of our business is wonderful for Mare, but her real joy comes in the knowledge that the children are benefitting from a program where their opinions, beliefs, and ideas are valued and heard. Mare is definitely the best person to talk to about childhood!

The third person who is important to mention is our Administrative Assistant, Debbie Skordilis. Debbie has also been at Aspirations since the very beginning – even before it was actually a school. She has always kept us organized and up to date and welcomes everyone with a smile. Debbie has a British accent and is the kindest and most amicable person you will ever meet. Every child and teacher loves and adores Ms. Debbie. Without a doubt, she has contributed to our success!

Now I told you about us, but really the interview is about the school and what we do, so I wanted to tell you more about what we do. We give children the chance to be kids; to learn through play, to feel valued, to know that what they feel and what they think are important. We focus a lot of the social-emotional development of children. Sometimes this can be forgotten in a society where everyone wants their child to have a 4.85 by the end of high school, be the best dancer, football player, or always get the lead in the school play. We know that everyone is going to learn to read and write as they progress through school, but will they have learned at a young age that school can be fun and still be a growth opportunity? If they don’t learn this at a young age, they may never enjoy school and never want to learn and grow. Not everyone is going to learn how to enter a group of children already playing together (fast forward to entering a group of colleagues who have been working together). Not everyone is going to want to explore various ways to learn something, to “think outside the box”, maybe because they were never given the opportunity when they were young. Not everyone is going to be the very best at everything, but they should be taught that what they can do, what they did, is valuable. Not everyone learns how important it is to be empathetic toward others – teaching and roll-modeling this for young children is important and something we try to do every day. Yes, we teach children colors, shapes, letters, numbers, etc., because they are developmentally ready, but the most important thing we provide them is the confidence in knowing that what they know matters, how they treat others matters, their opinions and ideas matter.

One special project that we’ve had each year since we’ve been open (except for 2020), is an event called The Collected Works: A Retrospective Look into a Reggio-inspired Childhood. It typically happens every Spring, and it’s an art show, but it’s definitely not an ordinary art show. Our teachers and the children from each classroom begin to learn about an artist and/or an art technique, near the beginning of the school year. For the younger children, the teachers may chose an artist based on that artist’s technique and what they know the children are capable of. For the older children, the teachers may ask if anyone has ever been to an Art Gallery and what type of art they like, or the inspiration may come from work they see the children doing in the classroom. Once the decision is made, they are all in, learning about the artist, trying various art techniques through varying creative processes. The teachers are often learning alongside the children – who was this person and how can we re-create our own version of their work. We have had a classroom follow Dale Chihuly – because the teachers noticed the children being very interested in light tables and how the light shone through various objects. Of course three-year old children can’t blow glass, at least not at school because it’s too dangerous, so they thought of different ways to recreate the effect of colorful blown glass They used plastic water bottles colored with bright colored markers, plexiglass with paint hung against a bright window or light, lightweight plastic that the children colored and was shape-changed with a blow dryer. The experience was enriching for the children and several families made it a point to travel to Seattle to the Chihuly Museum because the parents were inspired by what they saw and what their children learned. Each classroom has at least one collaborative art piece that the entire classroom has contributed to. They also have process pieces because art is typically trial and error, It’s a month’s long process, well documented along the way, to make the entire process visible to the families who come The Collected Works evening at Aspirations. On the Friday of The Collected Works, the teachers work hard to transform each classroom into an art gallery, displaying process pieces, documentation and the final collaborative art pieces, and families come to school for the big event. Children and families are dressed up, extended family and friends often attend as well, and the children see that what they did and what they learned, matters and is important.

What matters most to you? Why?
Our biggest “matter” right now is that we are still providing a space where children are thriving. Even with all of the restrictions we are all faced with, the children come into Aspirations every day with a light in their eyes and laughter. They are learning how to be good friends, even though they can’t always see the full expression on a friends face. They are collaborating with each other on projects. They are thinking of new ways to build the “tallest skyscraper”. They are travelling around the globe with the help of their teachers and their families who share their travel stories via Zoom. They are playing outdoors together as a group, learning the importance of exercise as well as the importance of giving others a turn. They are sharing their knowledge and ideas with their peers – everyone is an expert at something! They are learning responsibility by taking on a classroom “job”. We love what we do and while we were worried that some of the things that matter wouldn’t be possible when we re-opened last June, we see each and every day that they do happen.

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