Journal Entry

Meet Emily Ward: Love for outdoors aligns with passion for the work

Talent team member helped to open a preschool in Nepal

The coast of Southern California is beautifully charming — with its salty air and golden horizons — but when Emily Ward gazes toward the sunset, she’s dreaming of the mountains instead.

That’s where home is. And although she’s settled in nicely with her family in San Clemente, a peaceful town near the coast, she breathes in hoping to catch a whiff of the Pacific Northwest still, a familiar place where her love for the outdoors, children, and Montessori all began.

“I grew up on 10 acres outside Portland, Oregon,” Emily says. “My father and mother were very much homesteaders. They built our home and lived off the land as much as they could, and I had a tremendous amount of freedom to explore and build forts and just use my imagination as a child.”

Emily says she loved reading National Geographic magazines and dreamed of visiting those places and people. Her love for travel and exploration began with stories in her lap.

“I would take the stories I was reading at home or learning about in school and then use my imagination to explore and dream and play with my friends.”

Even at the age of six years old, she recalls a clear vision of what the world could be and wanting to connect with people to collectively help the planet.

“I truly believe that if we are going to help build a more peaceful and just world, it begins with our children,” she says.

Emily has worked with children most her life. At a young age, she was babysitting around the neighborhood then volunteering as a high school student in a first-grade classroom.

“It was then I was getting back to exploring with my hands, and I knew I just wanted to keep that spark alive in children and help them navigate the world.”

Discovering Montessori, building dreams

When it came time to leave for college, she chose a liberal arts school to study elementary education, at Humboldt State University in California. With a love for traveling, she then studied international education for a year in Sweden and Thailand, where she truly discovered Montessori — observing and completing her practicum in Swedish classrooms.

“In Scandinavia, they don’t call it Montessori,” she says. “It’s a way of life. They take child-centered learning and community learning and incorporate it into their education system, and I was so impressed and so inspired!”

She continued to explore from there, moving to Japan for a year and teaching English to junior high school students as well as local professionals.

“I love traveling so much!” she says. “Whether it’s with a backpack on through the mountains or in a different country, it’s my favorite thing.”

Then, in 2008, she moved to Nepal to backpack and explore the Himalayas.

“It was there I met my dear friend Nicole,” Emily recalls. Nicole is the founder of Sapana Nepal, a preschool in the remote village of Pumdi for young children who would otherwise have limited care or supervision during the day. Emily came in to work with the organization as their early childhood specialist. She spent time observing the classroom, coaching the teachers and preparing the classroom as needed. Today, she keeps in touch with Nicole monthly and still serves on the school’s board.

“We are struggling to keep the organization alive, but I would love to train the guides and transform the classroom into a Montessori toddler and primary program,” Emily says. “That’s my big dream.”

From teaching to hiring teachers

In 2009, Emily came back to the states to find a Montessori school closer to home, in Oregon.

“I attended an open house hosted by Montessori Northwest, the international Montessori training center in Portland, and I walked out that night in tears,” she says. “I knew right then Montessori is what I had been searching for — not just for myself as an educator, but for our children. Montessori is all we need.”

Emily completed her 13-month AMI Montessori intensive in 2011, training specifically in ages 3 to 6, then finishing her masters in education at Loyola University in Maryland. She taught in Portland for four years, teaching at the primary and lower elementary levels, before moving to Southern California in 2015 to run a Children’s House classroom for LePort Schools. 

“Once I discovered Montessori, I felt like I had come home,” Emily says. “I believe that we can really help the child become more aware of themselves, who they are in relation to their peers, to their classroom community, to their greater community, and the global community, too.”

Then, in March of this year, Emily began a new path in Montessori by joining Higher Ground Education as a talent specialist, recruiting and hiring primary and elementary guides.

“I really love finding fellow Montessorians and talking to fellow Montessorians from all over the world,” she says. “And, I love sharing our mission here at Guidepost. So many people are blown away that there is a Montessori organization with a network of schools backed by a passion to make this form of education accessible to every child, every family, and every community here on earth. I really hope we can achieve that, and I feel so excited.”

Not only does education continue to inspire her, but her everlasting appreciation for nature and the mountains of home motivate her, too.

“I believe that education is the pathway to a more equitable world,” she says. “If done right, like in Montessori, it can be the structure that allows us to learn about ourselves on a deeper level and grow to know our greater global family. Only then can we all work collectively to make this earth a better place for all.

“We are here on this earth to explore, to discover, to build relationships, to build communities and to really connect with one another,” Emily continues. “Education is more than human development, it is lifelong learning, and Montessori offers us a deeper understanding that our actions, attitudes, and decisions ultimately affect the greater whole. Montessori is completely a way of life.”

Click here to learn more about Emily.

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