Since 2000, hundreds of children have explored, discovered and grown under the gentle guidance of Karen Sparkes, an administrator and lead teacher at Country Hills Montessori (CHM) Ft. Thomas. This spring, after 18 years at CHM, Sparkes will retire.
"Every day, parents could count on their child being treated by Mrs. Sparkes with kindness, professionalism and uncompromising concern for the healthy development of their child," wrote CHM Owner Susan Schreiber, in a letter to former parents of CHM students. "Her unwavering dedication to our school is an essential reason we have an incredible reputation throughout the community."
Eileen Richter, director of CHM Ft. Thomas, agrees with Schreiber's sentiments adding that "it's been an honor and privilege to work with her for all of us."
Sparkes earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Ohio University. She also holds a masters of science degree from Health Systems Administration, a Montessori 3-6 certification from Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y., and a masters degree from Northeast Montessori Institute in Boston. She has worked at the Albany Medical College and Hudson Valley Community College in the Physician Assistant Program. Prior to joining CHM's staff, she was the lead teacher at Montessori School of Albany in Rensselaer, N.Y.
When Sparkes' oldest son, Wesley, began attending a Montessori school, Sparkes volunteered in his class. "I was fascinated by it," Sparkes says.
She liked the Montessori approach to math (tools such as the hundred board and cubing chains help students understand addition and subtraction) and reading. But what impressed her most was the Montessori concept that children are the future of the world and the belief that if we can teach children to be peaceful, we can better strive for a more peaceful world.
Sparkes and her family spent a year in England while her husband, Phillip, worked on his masters degree at Notre Dame Law School. Upon their return Sparkes knew she wanted to teach in a Montessori school. She completed a one-year intensive program while working at Montessori School of Albany. Then, in 1999, she and her family moved to Fort Thomas after her husband got a job teaching law at Northern Kentucky University.
How she landed at CHM was a bit serendipitous. While at the Carrico/Fort Thomas Branch of the Campbell County Public Library, a woman with children recognized Sparkes' t-shirt, which mentioned New York. They began talking and Sparkes asked her if she knew of any local Montessori schools. The woman said yes – there was one just around the corner. Sparkes turned right out of the library's driveway, quickly found the school and peeked in the windows. "I cried," she said. "It was so beautiful."
Sparkes initially landed a teaching position at CHM's Eastgate location. She began teaching at the Fort Thomas location in 2000, and has primarily worked with kindergarten students.
"Karen has fostered a genuine curiosity and love of learning in my son," says CHM parent Amanda Pompilio. "I am amazed at her ability to provide an environment that is challenging, structured and tailored to the needs of each child that she educates."
Even the smallest teaching moments from Sparkes have had big impacts on students. Lavin Stepner, a former CHM student says she would like to thank Mrs. Sparkes for helping with stencils, because it helped her in her art classes.
Sparkes says she'll deeply miss her fellow teachers. "This is a group of women who care a lot about the kids," she says. "They're all moms and they care about each other. It's a very supportive environment for the kids and my colleagues. You don't find that everywhere."
Sparkes has fond memories of working with unit beads, watching students "burst" into reading, releasing butterflies, visiting residents and planting pinwheels for peace. This year's Kindergarten Mother's Tea and graduation will be especially bittersweet, she says.
In August, Sparkes and her husband will move back to New York, to the Village of Fairport – the "Crown Jewel of the Erie Canal." "It's a gorgeous village," Sparkes says. It's also the village in which her husband grew up in. Sparkes is looking forward to spending time with her husband, reading and traveling.
To celebrate Sparkes retirement, all CHM alumni are invited to an End of the School Year Picnic at Tower Park, Shelter 1, Monday, May 14, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.