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Maria Cortese: Purposeful activities engage interests and participation

Year: 2018 – Province: British Columbia

Transcription – Maria Cortese-2018 Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education

[Black screen fades up to close-up of woman in interview setting, against a mottled background. Music playing.]

[Caption: Maria Cortese, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School]

[Maria speaking in the interview setting followed by voice over accompanied by still images, as follows: Maria playing with two little boys and their cardboard creations; and Maria pointing out something in a toadstool house to two little girls.]

Maria Cortese: The number one factor that I feel contributes to my students’ learning is relationship-building. I believe, before any curriculum, any class activity that can happen, if you don’t have a relationship with your children, and if your children don’t trust you—and if they don’t feel that your classroom is an extension of their home—you really can’t dig deep into their learning.

[Maria speaking in the interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still images, as follows: Maria and a group of children gathered around a round table in the classroom; and Maria squatting down with a group of children outside looking at a flower.]

Maria Cortese: If I could create a perfect space for my children to learn in, it would be an extension of their home, a space that they create themselves. Our classroom is quite bare in September, and the children start to fill our classroom with things from their home. They bring a family photo. They bring a toy from home. They do an activity with their parent. So, I really believe that those environments that the children create are the ones that they can attach to and really embrace learning.

[Maria speaking in the interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by video of Maria speaking into a microphone behind a podium, addressing fellow recipients and looking at a screen while she speaks, with audience members listening.]

Maria Cortese: Based on my knowledge and experience with technology in the classroom, in an early childhood setting, we really use technology for research. What we do is we use our computer to research questions that they may have, maybe watch a video. It’s really a tool for them to deepen their curiosity. It’s really more a tool for us to communicate with the families and for the children to dive deeper into their own questions that they have.

[Maria speaking in the interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: Maria and her class greeting an elderly man, Farmer Jim, at his door; Maria giving Jim a hug; and Jim showing the children something in his garden. The segment ends with a picture of Maria and a dozen children posed class picture-style in the classroom.]

Maria Cortese: My biggest piece of advice for pre-service educators is to take your classroom into the community. My best practices presentation was about my relationship, and my class’s relationship, with Farmer Jim, a 96-year-old neighbour, who lives two blocks away from our school. So, if you take a class of 30 preschoolers to go by and say ‘hi,’ I think that’s really powerful for children to have authentic relationships with seniors, high school students. It’s a real authentic relationship with someone who has experienced a lot more with them. They share stories like real friends do, and that’s what my children have really developed with Jim.

[Fade to black.]

[Cut to white screen, with the Government of Canada FIP followed by the Canada Wordmark.]

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Maria Cortese

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School
2550 Cameson Street
Vancouver, BC V6R 3W6

Telephone: 604-228-8811


Type of setting: Preschool for children ages 2 to 5 years

Hired to transform a parish school's Junior Kindergarten, Maria Cortese not only manages the program—including budgeting, staffing and planning—and sets its overall vision, based on the idea of the whole child, but also personally ensures the well-being of all the children enrolled.

Philosophy of care

Maria recognizes the importance of providing an environment for each child to build and sustain positive relationships with themselves, one another, their families, their culture and the world around them. She does this first by forming strong bonds between each child and herself in the classroom.

Support of child development

  • Ensures that every activity has a purpose, based on her observations of children's skills, abilities, interests and needs: running a restaurant, role playing in the "house corner," investigating all aspects of art, exploring textures and the senses, taking care of the community and nature
  • Focuses on social responsibility, not taking the easy way out and core values such as integrity: when children asked for something new for the class, Maria engaged them in raising funds for it; when the school walkathon was rained out, it was rescheduled so children could still honour their pledges
  • Recognizes and adapts to children's special needs: brought in her dog to help children learn empathy and responsibility; encouraged boy struggling to connect with peers to lead class survey on food; eased transition for child needing glasses by reading cute story on the topic to class
  • Recognizes and responds to children's individual contributions: the Star of the Week takes the "sharing bag" home and returns with personal items to share with classmates; in response to child's request, Maria started school collection of baby blankets for families who could not afford them

Involvement with parents, families and the community

  • Teaches the importance of family and respects children's heritage: children bring a toy and family photo from home on first day to ease transition to school and prompt conversation with classmates; children share information about their family with drawings and stories
  • Holds special events for families, such as pizza/Lego night for dads and Mother's Day teas; welcomes siblings to class; asks parents to share their talents and knowledge with the children
  • Emphasizes caring for and learning from the elderly: children visit the school's neighbour, "Farmer Jim," each week to help maintain his garden (and the pumpkin patch in the fall) and bring veggies back to class to cook; the children planned a surprise 96th birthday party for him

Rave reviews

"Maria has a genuine and heartfelt desire to grant each child she teaches the opportunity to imagine, build, wonder, collaborate, innovate and thus grow in their own right."

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