When the little boy came into Chandria Taylor’s preschool class at Gateway MST Elementary School, he would run to the corner and hide.
“He just wasn’t very comfortable being around a lot of people, so we made a corner in our room and called it Andy’s House,” Taylor said (his name was changed for anonymity).
Taylor and her teaching assistant put a bean bag in his “house,” along with some toys. Whenever he felt “overwhelmed or freaked out,” they would tell him to go to his house, and that helped calm him down.
“Then the kids would ask, ‘Andy, can I come to your house?’” Taylor said. “It helped him build relationships with the other children in the classroom because he had his own space, so he was able to say, ‘Yes, you can come in,’ or ‘No, I need the time to myself in my house.’”
As the school year went on, Andy started to come out of his shell and socialize with the other children, she said.
“As a teacher, it is my goal to create a classroom that is fun, engaging, and safe so that each child who enters into my room knows that this is a place where they are welcomed and loved,” Taylor said. “It is my goal to get to know each child personally, so that we can build a relationship of trust and understanding.”
Because of her ingenuity in creating a safe and fun space for all children, Taylor will receive the PNC Bank Early Childhood Education Award at the Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, held at the America’s Center on Saturday, September 21.
“Mrs. Taylor is a lover of all things, but teaching is what she is most passionate about,” said Jim Triplett, principal at Froebel Literacy Academy, also in Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS). “She loves to show others a new way of learning, a new way of life, and a new way of thinking. She encourages each student and person who she comes in contact with that they can do whatever they put their mind to, as long as they work hard to achieve it.”
This is Taylor’s fourth year as a preschool teacher at Gateway, which is a SLPS magnet school. She started at Gateway after she earned her bachelor’s in elementary education at Lindenwood University, which catapulted her from being a substitute teacher to a certified classroom teacher. Taylor also has a master’s in human services from Purdue Global University.
A Kansas City native, Taylor said coming into Gateway was a culture shock for her because she grew up in a “more privileged community.”
“When I got here, I noticed some kids came to school wearing the same clothes as they did the day before. Some kids didn’t have this or that at home,” she said.
“But what I learned is, I have to really get to know those families and the students to know that Little Johnny is acting out because maybe he didn’t have breakfast that morning or he didn’t get enough sleep the night before because he’s sharing a room with his five other siblings. I really learned how to build personal relationships with them, so it could better help me understand not just their learning styles but who they are as a person.”
Taylor said her college education didn’t prepare her for teaching in schools where the families lacked basic needs and resources, and she believes it’s something colleges need to address in their lessons.
Peggy Trotter, Taylor’s teaching assistant, said that Taylor always puts students first.
“If she sees someone in need, she will do something to help,” Trotter said. “If a child is wearing shoes that hurt, she will search the school for a pair. By the end of the day, that child is going home with shoes that fit, and she will take her planning time to do it.”
Trotter also said that Taylor could take a lunch break to herself, but she typically joins the students in the cafeteria and sits next to the student who needs extra attention. She sends snacks home with students who she knows don’t have food at home, which she pays for out of her own pocket, Trotter said.
On November 1, 2018, Taylor was 32 weeks pregnant when she lost her youngest daughter, Adelyn, as a result of stillbirth. It happened on a Thursday, Taylor said, and she was back to work the next Monday.
“I came back to work because I just knew being at home was not going to be good for my mind,” Taylor said. “Being around children who are laughing and keeping me on my toes, I don’t have time to be sad. I really love kids. Being here, it brought me so much peace. The parents in my room were so supportive. The whole school was such a family to me.”
Taylor is in the process of starting a nonprofit organization, Like a Rose, in Adelyn’s memory, which allows her to mentor and educate others on stillbirth, pregnancy loss, and mental health. She writes regularly on the Facebook page Like A Rose — Adelyn Rose, and has begun speaking publicly about her experience. She is also writing a book that will be published around the one-year anniversary of Adelyn’s death.
Taylor loves music and plays piano, so musical activities are a mainstay in her classroom, along with lots of crafts.
“In my classroom we are loud, we are crazy, we are excited, and we love to learn,” Taylor said. “We learn by play, we learn by doing, and we learn by trial and error. Teaching is my passion, and I spend every day wondering how I can make my learning environment better than the last.”
The 2019 Salute to Excellence in Education Gala will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the America's Center Ballroom, following a reception at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are $100 each/$1,000 table and VIP/Corporate tickets are $1,500 table. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.stlamerican.com and click on Salute to Excellence, or call 314-533-8000.