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Clay Profiles Kristen M. Waterfield as a Leader in Early Education

As part of its Leaders in Early Education series, Clay a leading behavioral and developmental health platform for early education centers profiled Kristen M. Waterfield, founder and CEO of The Malvern School.

In this interview, Kristen shares her profound passion for early childhood education and her belief in an innovative, individualized approach to curriculum that caters to every child’s needs.

We’d love to learn about your background – what brought you to early childhood education?

I wanted to be a teacher ever since I can remember. Even as a young girl, it was a very clear calling for me. After earning my degree in elementary education at Wilkes University, I started my career in the classroom as a kindergarten and second grade teacher. From there, I joined a large child care franchise and worked my way up to become Director of Corporate Operations. Despite my career growth, I wasn’t satisfied with the franchise model. I believed a different approach could do more for young children, so I ventured out to make that happen.

Tell us more about the Malvern School, which you founded in 1998. What makes it special?

I founded The Malvern School with Joe Scandone to raise the bar in early childhood education. We educate the whole child with innovative, individualized programming; forward-thinking, college-educated teachers and staff; an uncompromising focus on quality; and nurturing environments where children learn and feel loved. Our team is truly one of the best in the business!

You have a unique approach to curriculum – how has this approach contributed to the success of your schools and its students?

Every parent wants what’s best for their child. Our curriculum provides teachers the freedom to design lesson plans that best meet the needs of each individual student. The path to reaching different cognitive, social-emotional and physical milestones can look different for every child, and our model helps children realize their full potential at each stage of their development. This approach resonates with both families and teachers – and has been core to our growth over the past nearly 25 years. Today, we’re extremely proud to have a team that’s hundreds of educators strong across 27 schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

How has your experience as a teacher shaped the way you designed the school experience for your educators?

Being teacher owned and teacher led is a big part of what defines The Malvern School. As a teacher myself, I recognize how important it is to treat educators like the experts they are and acknowledge their serious dedication to helping young children learn and grow. That’s why we focus on empowering teachers, ensuring the proper resources are available to support them and rewarding them properly.

As a member of the Board of Trustees of Valley Forge Educational Services, what role do you think early education centers have to play in helping to identify potential behavioral and developmental challenges in children?

I see firsthand how important it is to identify and address any type of behavioral or developmental challenges that children may have at a young age. As a trusted resource for parents, early educators play a critical role in helping to identify what is – or is not – developmentally appropriate and connecting families to the appropriate support resources. This is essential to providing children opportunities where they, as individuals, can learn, grow and thrive.

A big part of Clay’s mission is to catch concerns at the earliest onset of symptoms. What steps do you think schools can take to prioritize behavioral and developmental health from an early age? 

Support for our educators is key in prioritizing the overall behavioral and developmental health of young children. Partnering with organizations like Clay has been extremely useful in helping teachers identify concerns and symptoms early on. Their resources are a great complement to our twice yearly assessments with Teaching Strategies Gold where we evaluate children’s milestones by age group, as well as our foundational structure of support, which includes having a dedicated Director of Education at each of our schools who is solely dedicated to supporting our teachers and classrooms. Ongoing, candid dialogue with families is also essential in evaluating and caring for the whole child.

How do you think a solution like Clay can better empower educators to help families with their behavioral and developmental challenges?

Clay’s specialized tools help educators effectively manage behavioral and developmental challenges in the classroom and enable them to provide resources that families can use at home. Whether it’s a child who isn’t speaking or meeting specific developmental milestones, a child who needs continual redirection with positive guidance or a child who is demonstrating mental health concerns, being aligned around expert approaches for addressing and managing these issues goes a long way.

Lastly, who are your inspirations in early childhood education and why?

I’m inspired by teachers! The magic of early learning that takes place in our classrooms every single day is truly inspirational – and I’m extremely grateful to have such an exceptional team of teachers, Directors and staff at The Malvern School who make it all happen.

 

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