13 Years at ITAV: Interview with Ms. Shirley of River City

By: Tara Shedor, Director of Communications

Tagged: school, history, vlacademy, changethename, ecw, earlychildhoodworkforce, RiverCity, education, celebration,

10 minutes, 50 seconds

It Takes A Village Family of Schools at River City just celebrated its thirteenth year of operation in September. Ms. Shirley Jackson, original River City threes’ classroom teacher, is also celebrating her thirteenth year with ITAV!


Ms. Shirley spearheaded our e-learning program during the pandemic. Now she shares her love for early learning education with all through her own Youtube channel. Join us here for a conversation with her and our Director of Communications, Tara Shedor.



Will you please introduce yourself?



Ms. Shirley: I am Miss Shirley Jackson and I’ve been working at ITAV for thirteen years, now as a lead teacher in the threes’ classroom. I started with pre-K thirteen years ago, and from there I went on to toddlers. Before coming to ITAV I worked with children ages five to twenty-one.



How did you get started with ITAV specifically?



Ms. Shirley: I had just left a job and had heard good things about ITAV. When I was in school in the classroom I had a teacher who raved about It Takes A Village and I knew I had to apply. A couple of years later I ended up here!


Did you work at ITAV West when you started?



Ms. Shirley: No, I have actually always worked at ITAV River City. I was here when they opened the doors. I helped set up the tables and put the legs on the chair and everything! September 8, 2021 marks our thirteenth year here.



You mentioned you worked with older children previously.

Can you tell me more about that?



When I first graduated highschool I actually went to college at Columbia for television and radio broadcasting. I did that for about a year. Then at about nineteen or twenty years old I got a job at Holy Angels Catholic School and did the summer program. I was assigned to the kindergarten class. After that job was done at the end of the summer, there was this nun who approached me. She had been observing me and thought I would make a good teacher. She told me:


“You are a natural with children.

You should be a teacher.” 

I asked her if I needed a degree to get started and she told me no, she could help get me started. She offered to train me herself! She took me under her wing and set me up for where I am today.

What qualities do you think make a good teacher?



Ms. Shirley: Loyalty, passion, and the niche for just loving children. To want to teach and be able to teach, it has to start within your heart. Because it can be challenging. As well as exciting, rewarding, and fun. There’s something I read once about this performer saying that when they were on stage and performing, they felt safe. And that’s something I think about with teaching. I feel at home and safe. It’s my passion and I really like doing it. It’s in my heart.



Are there any particular activities you’ve done with your children that stand out as memorable to you?



Ms. Shirley: I can think of one in particular that has to do with emotions and feelings. Children have to learn how to describe emotions and feelings when they’re upset. So for my children, they know there is a quiet place in the room where they can go to cry if they need to. This is where they can go to talk to someone or just be quiet. We don’t call it “time out,” we call it the “quiet zone” because it’s not a bad place to be. When they feel upset or angry they have somewhere to go. This is how children can learn to self-regulate their emotions with a little bit of help. Talking to them, giving them the right words to use, and a place to express themselves. I tell them, “When you feel ready, you can come back to join the group.”



You mentioned an activity you do that’s related to the quiet zone. Can you tell me more about that?



Ms. Shirley: One of the activities we do is making our own “calming jars.” Each child gets a plastic safe jar that we fill with water, and they get to dye the water in the jar their favorite color with food coloring. Then they fill it with whatever beads and stars or whatever fun shapes they like. We keep the jars in the quiet zone so that they can pick them up, hold it and play with it while they’re upset to help calm them down.


Can you think of anything else

that makes your classroom special?



Ms. Shirley: Patience and understanding sprinkled with a little bit of love! I am a grandmother myself so I can relate to parents and can understand what they would want for their children. I always put myself in the place of the parent so that I can know how they would feel. It starts with the heart.



What is your favorite part of the job?



Ms. Shirley: My favorite part is seeing a toddler come in from the infants’ classroom, barely able to walk, unable to drink with an open lid, and then getting to see the change in them where they are sitting up on their own, they are walking, sitting for circle time, and drinking from a cup. That for me is progress and efficacy. You get to see your work in front of you.

Children are my heartbeat.

They really are my heart.


Can you think of any goals you’ve accomplished or are working on personally?



Ms. Shirley: Well, now that my daughter is set up to work towards her second Master’s degree, because I wanted to make sure she was set up for success, now I am ready to finish my own degree. It’s my turn. I just received my Associate’s degree in December which was the most exciting and rewarding thing for me. I’ve been in and out of school for years and it was time for me to bring it all together. Now I’m working on my Bachelor’s, and I’m very excited.



Well, it sounds like you’ve done

a lot of learning along the way.



Ms. Shirley: That’s exactly right. A little bit of this and that along the way. Now I have a blog about teaching because education is what I do, it’s what I like. It’s called Ms. Shirley’s Saturday School – and I’m on YouTube!


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