Monika Kochowiec Is a Link to
Our School’s Earliest Days
Before her retirement at the end of last school year, Monika Kochowiec was the last person on our staff who had worked at the school in its formative years, the only current staff member left who had been at the school before it moved to its present location, in 1979. She had taught at the school for 44 years.
During those years, Monika taught every elementary grade, including 21 years in our Room 7 kindergarten and 12 years co-teaching fourth grade with Christie Vinson. She taught in three classes that combined two grades.
In 1976 and ’77, when we began adding elementary grades to what had begun as a preschool in 1975, we experimented with combining the Montessori and Waldorf approaches to education in our new elementary program, viewing the two as complementary. Classes were co-taught by a Montessori teacher and a Waldorf teacher – “truly team teaching,” says Ellen Evans, “giving students the best of both.”
Ellen was principal of The Meher Schools from its inception until her retirement in 2016. In 1977 Monika was teaching at a Waldorf school in Sacramento. Ellen went to Sacramento to meet her and learn more about Waldorf – and to entice her to teach at our school, which she did.
The Waldorf model stresses developmentally appropriate experiential learning and the integration of the arts in all subjects. “Monika brought the essence of Waldorf education to our classrooms,” Ellen says, “and she taught by example. She set a high bar for infusing the arts into academics.” She was also very much involved in the Seven Circles Garden and our composting program.
“I was enchanted, and that enchantment never diminished. She was tireless in her devotion to the children and to the school. She is one of a kind.”
A number of her former students became her colleagues at the school, including elementary Co-Principal Vince d’Assis. Thinking back to her first meeting with Monika, Ellen says, “I was enchanted, and that enchantment never diminished. She was tireless in her devotion to the children and to the school. She is one of a kind.”
Many on our staff hadn’t realized that Monika had retired, since she’s still on campus every day, but now as a volunteer. Homework Club for first graders was her idea, and she’s there every afternoon. “I try to make sure the kids learn in a pleasant way that makes them feel successful,” she says. She also teaches knitting and crocheting to aftercare students and to second graders in the morning.
She helps out at snack time too (“ensuring that the right garbage goes into the right bin”) and makes certain the playground ball room “looks orderly and inviting.”
Monika was born and raised in Switzerland and came the U.S. in 1964. Her two children attended our elementary school when it was housed in the former Ellis Elementary School in Lafayette, the year before it relocated to Leland Drive.
Monika has seen a lot of changes at the school in her 44-plus years here but says “It’s still the same at its core – it’s still guided by love.”