PITTSFORD — Outside St. Louis School, a group of 3-year-olds was engaged in serious play. Some students were painting, while others were digging in the sand, looking for items they buried there.
Student Massimo Riccio was done with the sand and painting.
Kathy Conezio, preschool program coordinator and 3-year-old teacher, encouraged him to sit and observe the world around him.
"Use your lookers and look around," she said as she then volunteered words that he could use to describe what he saw.
This day of play and teaching with a class of active preschoolers is what retirement looks like for Conezio, a grandmother of seven who spent much of her more than 40 years in education at Head Start classrooms and working as an early childhood educational consultant.
"My husband and I are both retired," Conezio said. "He got bored with being retired and decided to reopen his doctor’s office. I said, ‘If you are going back to work, I am too.’"
Conezio is a longtime supporter and volunteer with St. Louis who, on a volunteer basis, recently helped the school incorporate Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Math into its preschool through second-grade curriculum. She also helped the school adapt elements of the Literasci/ScienceStart! curricula, which she helped coauthor. She began working this school year as a preK 3 teacher and director of the preschool program.
Conezio’s hiring coincides with the school’s increased focus on early childhood education, an expansion of the school’s early childhood program to offer full-day preschool options, and a remodeling project of Reddington Hall to create an early childhood center, according to Father Robert Ring, the parish’s pastor.
Father Ring said the early childhood focus was driven both by raised educational expectations across all grade levels and increased parent demand for full-day options. He said an enrollment increase this year shows that the parish and school were correct in placing their focus on early childhood education.
"While I’m delighted, I can’t say I’m surprised," Father Ring said. "We knew what we were investing in."
Courier photo by Sam Oldenburg
The parish also has invested in Conezio, who brings some unique credentials with her: She’s a science consultant for the children’s television show "Sesame Street." She said she and University of Rochester Warner School of Education developmental psychology professor Lucia French, who coauthored the ScienceStart! curriculum, were invited to New York City to visit "Sesame Street" back in the late 1990s.
Since then Conezio has advised the show’s writers on the science elements of their scripts and helps them determine whether the material is developmentally appropriate. Through her "Sesame Street" work, she said she has had the opportunity to go to some interesting places: Beijing, Japan, Chicago and the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
She said she has found the consulting work and the chance to hobnob with "Sesame Street" stars to be very exciting, but she said she also has discovered that the feeling is mutual.
"I think they enjoy working with me because I actually work with preschoolers and have real-world experience of working with kids," Conezio said.
Conezio taught for about a decade and owned a preschool in Victor. She said she also worked in a Head Start program in Rochester when she got involved in a project to create a 21st-century preschool curriculum that incorporated science, technology, engineering and math components. The work was funded by a grant from Eastman Kodak Co., the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.
The ScienceStart! early childhood education curriculum, which was developed out of this work, uses scientific exploration to teach children about the world and learn vocabulary, language and literacy through this exploration.
"The philosophy is we are all scientists from the time we are born," Conezio said.
To the busy 3-year-old scientists in Conezio’s class, play is actually work, she said.
"They are using their imagination, learning how to make friends, how to share things and how to talk about what they need and want," she said. "They are incredibly curious."
Tags: Monroe County East