arymount of Santa Barbara’s new Head of the Lower School, Andrea Torchin, joined the Marymount Administration team this fall. She brings a wealth of experience to Marymount and her extensive work with children, schools, and teachers is already enhancing the educational experience of Marymount’s Lower School students. Her expertise in professional training and development of teachers supports Marymount’s community of teachers and further strengthens their ability to provide Marymount’s student focused and innovative 21st century curriculum in a unique learning environment.
In the following interview, Mrs. Torchin sheds light on why she chose Marymount of Santa Barbara, what drives her passion for learning and teaching, and how happy she is to be (back) in Santa Barbara.
Q: Welcome to Santa Barbara. Could you help us get to know you better by telling us about your background?
AT: Initially in high school, I thought I wanted to work in medicine or scientific research. I went to a science and technology magnet school in Virginia. It was cutting edge at the time and I had amazing opportunities to do things like conduct experiments on DNA. After high school, I went to the University of Virginia where I double majored in Biology and Economics. At the end of college, I was offered an interesting choice: to volunteer for the Peace Corps or a full scholarship into a graduate program at the University of Oregon. I opted for the scholarship at the University of Oregon and left with a Master’s in Marine Biology. Along the way, though, something interesting had happened. I volunteered in classrooms, organized summer experiences for local elementary students as a graduate student and the exposure this volunteer work gave me changed everything.
I come from a long line of educators. My grandfather was a Superintendent of Schools in upstate New York and a high school principal. My great grandmother founded a public school in Santiago, Chile, which has recently been named after her. It didn’t take me very long to realize that I had the same passion for education that others in my family had had before me!
I first came to Santa Barbara around the time I finished my first Master’s degree and worked as a bilingual aide at La Patera School. It was there that others confirmed what I had started to believe myself: that I had a gift and a passion for education and for being a teacher. A mentor encouraged me to apply for a degree through UCSB’s Teacher Education Program. I did and received my second Master’s, a Master’s in Education with a multiple subject credential. With this credential in hand, I worked in local schools for another three years and then became a supervisor and lecturer of student teachers at UCSB for five.
Around this time my husband was offered a position with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Seeing a chance to do something exciting together as a family, we moved our family of four to Panama City, Panama. My children were enrolled in a US curriculum private school for Pre K3- 12th grade students. Once in Panama, I jumped into the life of the school as a parent and volunteer and it was not long before the Director at the school started to enlist my help in more formal ways. I helped with teacher professional development; I was a Reading Specialist and Spanish teacher; I then taught 4th grade. Next, I became the Director of Teaching and Learning responsible for PK-12th grade curriculum alignment and school accreditation. During this time I was learning too. I started working on my third Master’s, a Master’s in Educational Leadership. I finally became principal of the elementary school in 2013.
We had now lived in Panama for 11 years and missed the States. Our first instinct was to return to our former home: Santa Barbara.
Q: With your experience, you could have worked at a lot of schools, why did you choose Marymount?
AT: When interviewing, I felt a strong connection with the administrative team. The fact that I had private school and California school experience helped me to feel that that I’d be a good fit. I also really liked the fact that Marymount not only promotes strong academics, but ethical and personal development in its students as well. It’s rare to find this done so well, and I wanted to be at a school that thought it was important. I loved the Lower School’s Kaleidoscope Program and the way it helps students to have an informed, global sensibility. The school is focused on helping students grow up to be caring, adaptable, decisive adults, people capable of thriving under circumstances we cannot predict.
At Marymount, I saw students supported in all areas. I see strong academic preparation and individualized learning as well as social and emotional support and Marymount does a good job at this.
Q: Is there anything in addition to this that you like about Marymount’s program?
AT: There is a real channel of communication from administrators, to teachers, to parents, to students that supports 21st Century Learning at Marymount. To best prepare students for the future, we now know we need to allow students to struggle
through learning. Students now need to be creative learners, critical thinkers, problem solvers and able to work collaboratively. It takes a lot of coordination to do this well, and it’s the role of schools to offer opportunities for students to engage in activities that help them develop these skills. It’s what Marymount offers its students.
Q: Are there any particular traditions you especially like at Marymount?
AT: I am still new to Marymount so I have not had the chance to experience all of the traditions, but I have been so moved by the school spirit shown at events like Opening Circle in which the entire school comes together to share hopes and dreams for the school year ahead. I also loved the school birthday celebration in which the 4th and 5th graders sang the Marymount song. It was great to see the older students stand up in the crowd to sing the song alongside the younger students. You could feel the students’ connection with the School.
Q: As an outsider with fresh eyes, what do you feel makes Marymount different from other schools?
AT: I have had the opportunity to work with teachers in the Middle and Lower School at Marymount and I have been impressed with how highly motivated, passionate, and professional they are. It’s unusual to find so many high quality teachers in one place. The teachers at Marymount truly have the best interest of the students at heart. It sets the school apart.
I also really like the fact that teacher leaders drive the professional development of other teachers. Marymount’s Teacher Learning Communities are supportive. There is a very collegial environment between teachers here and teachers are encouraged by administration and their colleagues to be innovators and problem solvers, benefits that an independent school offers.
Lastly, another thing that makes Marymount different is the attention it pays to supporting the individual child. Marymount’s teachers understand that all students are different. Their teaching caters to each individual child in the academic, creative, physical, social and emotional areas. Marymount is committed to a teacher to student ratio that supports this.
Q: There is a lot of buzz about Marymount’s Middle School. Why should parents consider sending their children to Marymount’s Lower School?
AT: To be able to be successful middle school students, one has to start with a solid foundation. The Lower School students get this at Marymount. Programs like our Singapore Math program, our robotics program, and our hands on science laboratory offer the rigor and support that the students need to be successful at the next level. Our social and emotional program is derived from the Responsive Classroom approach. This system is then promoted in the Middle School to develop a Culture of Kindness. Marymount is committed to fostering a strong sense of empathy that is woven through both Lower and Middle Schools. Additionally, we are committed to students learning a second language. Students begin learning Spanish in first grade. Language learning continues to be a part of their program through 8th grade. Learning a second language early on allows children to be more successful in developing a second language more fully. The Lower School program in the visual and performing arts, physical education, and media literacy really adds to supporting the whole child. The encore classes are still important at Marymount and the students’ experience with arts, physical education, technology and language follow them into Middle School. Lastly, Marymount is committed to the ethical development of students. Students and their parents have a choice in the program that they want their child to follow. Through our Kaleidoscope Program in the Lower School students can learn about world religions. As they move to Middle School this becomes a comparative religions study course. These two programs work in concert to support students in developing their worldview.
Last but definitely not least, when you attend a school like Marymount, everyone gets to know you as a person. Each family is welcomed into a caring school community. This creates a safe environment in which kids feel they can take risks in their learning. It allows kids the safety they need to be truly successful learners.