by Christopher Hurtgen
Katie Cahoon joined the Pine Point faculty in September 2021 as our new Lower School Science specialist. She also teaches 6th-grade mathematics. Katie earned her Master’s Degree from Roger Williams University and the Gordon School’s Teacher Residency Program in 2011. Most recently, Katie taught 6th-grade math, science and humanities at Gordon School and so she comes to Pine Point with a keen appreciation for independent schools. Katie said one of the draws to teaching at Pine Point is our 67-acre campus on which she is able to share her love of science and the natural world with our students.
We had a chance to join Lower School Science Teacher Katie Cahoon and her 3rd graders for a lesson in planting native seeds, which will become part of a new pollinator garden in the spring. Afterward, we sat down to talk about teaching and learning.
Q: How did you come to teaching?
A: In a very roundabout way, I guess you would say. I always loved learning. My background was English and Spanish, and I started teaching Spanish after school for a program up in Warwick, Rhode Island. I enjoyed that – it was my first time really working with little kids. And then I got a job while I was in college working as a park naturalist for Burlingame (R.I.) State Park. I had so much fun teaching about nature and getting people excited about nature because I could just go out in the woods and take people on hikes. So then, after college, I worked at a daycare and an early learning center as a preschool teacher for a couple of years. I had always thought about teaching and finally decided to go back to school and get my Master’s in teaching. And I was so glad I did.
Q: Tell us about your master’s program through Roger Williams and Gordon School’s Teacher Residency Program.
A: It was a really great experience. You’re working right alongside these great master teachers, day in and day out. We taught at a Providence school over the summer, a lot of English language learners. Then we were at Gordon for a semester, and during the usual January college break, we actually went to Paul Cuffee School, a charter school in Providence, and taught there. So we had such a diverse experience of schools, one being public and the other being a charter, and also Gordon being private with a diverse age range along with diverse abilities. I don’t know how I would have been as prepared to be a teacher if not for that program. Then I worked at Blackstone Valley Prep as a science teacher. I was there for a year as the only science teacher for 6th grade, and I had to create all the curriculum for that school. And then Gordon asked me back to be the math and science teacher in 6th grade. I’ve taught a bunch of different grades since then, and I’ve enjoyed them all so much.
Q: We heard that Pine Point had been on your radar long before this year.
A: A couple years back, we were thinking about our math program and how to improve it so we went to visit other schools. Pine Point had been doing Math in Focus even longer than we had. So I came, not knowing anything about Pine Point, and I fell in love a little bit: one, with the connection to the outdoors and the environment which has always been important to me. And then the beautiful facility as well. And everyone was welcoming. And everyone had a sense of purpose. There was a sense of wanting kids to be strong learners. And yet, it was still positive and joyful. Joyful learning is so important to me. I thought it was a really good balance that I saw which isn’t always easy to achieve. But I saw it happening at Pine Point.
You were drawn to Pine Point’s focus on environmental stewardship?
A: That focus is wonderful. It has always been important to me personally as well as professionally, to get kids excited about the environment: our effect on the world, our carbon footprint, where our waste goes.
Q: How has your first year on campus been?
A: It’s all positive. It has felt warm, it’s felt supportive – even in Covid, when you can’t see each other and collaborate as well as you’d like to. And yet, there is really good collaboration going on which I think is a testament to the school. Pine Point really cares about project-based learning and working cross-curricular and cross-grade levels. To be able to still do this, even in a pandemic, shows it’s valued. There is time put aside to collaborate that I don’t think all schools take the time to do. So I really appreciated that.
There’s intentional time made to make sure kids are on track – I see that during the study halls in middle school or in the advisories. It’s making sure kids have got what they need, whether it’s the soft skills or the more academic skills.
Q: What has been your impression of Pine Point families?
A: One of the hardest things for me so far is that I haven’t had as much interaction with families as I’m used to. That’s Covid. And then I started doing the morning drop-off and afternoon dismissal for early childhood and getting to see the Lower School parents feels nice. This morning, a parent said to me, “You’re one of my son’s favorite teachers.” That was so nice – I didn’t even know parents knew what I looked like! Parents are really taking the time to get to know the teachers, even if we can’t connect on the level that we want to right now because of Covid.
Q: We can see that you continually try to learn and incorporate new ideas into your teaching. What new ideas are you working on that you’re excited about?
A: I’m an avid reader – I love to read for just the enjoyment of reading. I got my own daughters a book at the library, Be a Tree by Maria Gianferrari and it’s just lovely. Its beautiful illustrations talk about how trees communicate, and how they need a community just like people do. And it talks about how the author was actually inspired by the book, The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, a forester in Germany. And as I’m reading, I’m just learning so much more about ecology than I thought I knew. And then I went from there to reading Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard, a professor up in British Columbia. And it’s just phenomenal what I’m learning from it.
And I’m already thinking about how I am going to connect this information about trees to my classes, particularly through all the habitat learning that we’re doing. I want kids to understand why it’s important. Ultimately, we are part of the environment, we are part of nature. And we cannot survive without it.