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Forming the future: Marissa Honka -- Academy of Notre Dame, Tyngsboro

Pilot photo/courtesy Marissa Honka

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Whenever high school senior Marissa Honka has free time in school, she knows just what to do: teach.

Beginning her sophomore year in the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro, the 17-year-old sought opportunities to volunteer in the school's preschool classrooms.

"I was the first person in the school to ever want to volunteer with the younger kids," Honka recalled, "and so the guidance counselor was really very helpful in setting it up."

Honka loved it.

She began to think that perhaps she would like to be an early childhood educator, but wanted to be certain. Once again, she turned to her school for help.

"Through their VHS (Virtual High School) program, I was able to take a Kindergarten Apprentice Teacher course to see if I wanted to be a teacher," she explained.

Rather than go to a traditional classroom, Honka would go to the school's library and log into a "virtual classroom" where, together with students from around the country, she participated in a course on early childhood education.

"It was great. The teacher was from Virginia, and we communicated through email," she said. "Assignments were handed out every Wednesday, and were due the following Tuesday. You could work on it on your own time, on your own laptop -- and all the course materials were online."

"Part of the criteria was that I had to make various lesson plans. The lesson plans covered science, math, history and English," she stated. "With each lesson I would read a book to the students and then I created an activity for the students to complete."

Because the Academy of Notre Dame is a K-12 school, Honka was able to volunteer in the school's kindergarten class.

She recalled one particular science activity she led in which each student was given a white flower and chose a color dye to place their flower into.

"After a few days, the students observed the flowers again and were amazed when the white flowers had changed colors," she said.

"It was great to be able to go across the campus to the kindergarten class and actually get to practice what I was learning," she said. "Mrs. Schelling (the kindergarten teacher) is amazing -- I learned so much from her."

As her junior year came to a close, Honka asked Mrs. Schelling if she could continue volunteering in her spare time.

"I told her, 'I think I can learn a lot from you,'" Honka said. "And she agreed to let me stay, so this year I go in once or twice a week and help out."

Seeing her enthusiasm, the elementary school principal contacted Honka and offered her a paid position in the school's extended day program.

"Three days a week, I work with all the children from pre-K to first grade," she explained. "It's been a good experience. I've gotten to see if this is something that I want to do as a career."

Honka first came to the Academy of Notre Dame in the sixth grade, when her family moved to Tyngsboro from Ohio. The youngest of two children, Honka admits she was not anxious to attend an all-girls school at first.

"Now that I've been here I realize that going to an all-girls high school allows you to learn about yourself without the distractions getting in the way," she said.

Looking to the future, Honka is fairly certain she will pursue a career in teaching. She has recently been accepted into the Early Childhood Education program at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida, which she hopes to attend.

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