Nicole Cirino '09
- Graduated from the Child Development program in 2009
- Earned her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University
In what field did you work prior to coming to SLC to study Child Development?
In high school and college I had worked with children in various settings (assisted/tutored first graders through America Reads/Counts work study program at Lehigh; worked at summer camps; babysat) For the 2.5 years between undergrad and graduate school I worked as an Editorial Assistant in an academic publishing house.
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school? Why Child Development?
Initially I thought I wanted to be a writer, and had applied to an MFA program in Fiction writing at an NYC institution in 2006 but was not admitted. A year later, disenchanted with office work, I reconsidered my options and decided, on a whim, to attend an SLC graduate studies open house just to learn about the programs because, having grown up in Westchester, I had heard wonderful things about Sarah Lawrence and knew friends of friends who had gone there. My interest in and previous experience with children led me to sit in on an information session with Barbara Schecter. While listening to her describe the program, it suddenly became clear to me that the use of theoretical frameworks and observation to study the experience of childhood was a perspective I hadn’t previously encountered. My experience working in traditional, assessment-based schools left me skeptical about teaching, but I felt that the Child Development program’s emphasis on the whole child would enable me to study children in the contexts of their lives. A longtime student of yoga, I had also begun teaching yoga to my 4 and 6 year old half-sisters, and was intrigued by the effects. I hoped that this was something I could further investigate at Sarah Lawrence.
How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
The flexibility of the program enabled me to take a wide variety of courses, such as “Theories of the Creative Process”, and “Play and Culture”. I often chose to integrate observations from my fieldwork into my conference work for the courses, enabling me to further explore some aspect of the content of particular interest to me. My professors were really supportive in helping me brainstorm ways to accomplish that goal. Also, my participation in two dance classes during my second year, which was not only permitted but encouragesd played a large role in the evolution of my thesis research.
Describe your experience working at the Early Childhood Center and Child Development Institute.
My first year of the program, I was a participant observer in a 4s/5s class at the ECC. The teacher, Suzy Schwimmer, was not only experienced, but also open and available to answer any questions I had throughout the course of my afternoons in her classroom. During the Observation Workshops Barbara facilitated, I had the opportunity to share my notes and questions with other members of the program, as we discussed what we saw thematically. During my second year of the program, I accepted a position as Assistant Teacher for one of Robbin Hawkins’ 3s classes. I learned so much from Robbin, and she empowered me to play an active role in her classroom. It was under her guidance and mentorship that I seriously began considering teaching in a progressive setting as a potential career path.
Where were your other fieldwork assignments? What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, which have aided you in your professional life?
My second year, Barbara encouraged me to pursue my interest in children’s yoga by participating in a children’s yoga teacher training program. Shortly thereafter, I was offered a position teaching yoga to 5—7 year olds at a studio, and also came across an opportunity to assist an after elementary school yoga program for children on the autistic spectrum led by a local Dance Movement Therapist. I drew on my reflections on teaching yoga in a studio as part of my thesis project.
What was the focus of your M.A. thesis?
I began the program with a curiosity about the profound effects of my own yoga practice, as well as the relational and psychological effects of yoga on my little sisters, and so I spent my first year observing children’s yoga classes and reading books written about the subject for my conference projects. Unfortunately, I found the mainstream perspective—of yoga as purely a form of recreation or physical education for children—lacking. One of my professors suggested that I consult the library’s dance literature, which I did, albeit skeptically. Remarkably, the dance literature (particularly in the field of Dance Movement Therapy) discussed the psychotherapeutic effects of movement much in the way I had experienced them through my own yoga practice. I knew that this was the missing link in my research.
As I spent the summer before my second year preparing to launch wholeheartedly into my thesis research in the fall, I was elated to hear that the college had brought on Cathy Appel, a Sarah Lawrence alumna, to teach an experiential course on Dance/Movement Therapy. Special accommodations were made which enabled me to take Cathy’s year-long class for credit in the fall (as opposed to taking a psychology elective as per normal procedure) and audit it in the spring. This enabled me to spend the fall reading toward and writing my thesis’ literature review. As the class experientially explored the concepts of Dance Movement Therapy, Cathy encouraged us to process our movement experiences through art. I found myself writing poem after poem, in the hopes of capturing and understanding the emotional and psychological effects of what I was learning.
My finished thesis, entitled, “Bodies in Motion: An Experiential Study of Creative Movement and Yoga with Young Children,” utilized a qualitative, multidisciplinary, and experiential approach to explore the psychological and emotional implications of a combined approach of creative movement and yoga with children ages three to seven. I presented and discussed observational data and reflective creative writing informed by my teaching in a yoga studio, improvising movement interactions in a preschool class, and experientially exploring the concepts as a student of movement to discuss in an interdisciplinary way the ways in which movement experiences help support the healthy development of children by providing opportunities for them to learn about the mind-body connection, increasing their movement repertoires, and enabling them to explore emotional and psychological issues with others.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
I applied for many different opportunities to work with young children, in arts based programs as well as educational settings. I was offered and accepted a position as Head Kindergarten teacher at a progressive independent school in Jersey City, NJ, called the Stevens Cooperative School.
Do you intend to pursue another degree or explore certification options?
So far, I have found teaching Kindergarten to be fun, educational, challenging, and enlightening, among other things. In the true spirit of progressive education, I am learning through direct engagement, continuing to navigate the bridge between theory and practice in the ways I learned through the Child Development program. Should I decide to teach long-term, I will likely pursue my teaching certification. However, I am also interested in continuing my research on yoga and movement as a therapeutic modality for young children, and may pursue a clinical degree in Dance/Movement Therapy.
What advice can you offer to people who are considering pursuing a career in fields related to Child Development?
A graduate program, especially at a school like Sarah Lawrence, provides you with the lucky opportunity to spend most, if not all, of your time investigating something you’re passionately curious about. Use the many resources around you to make the experience personal. Worry about what you will or won’t do with the degree later.
How have you stayed connected with SLC, and why?
During my time at Sarah Lawrence, I worked as an admissions liaison and enjoyed having the opportunity to provide a student’s perspective to prospective students. Since finishing the program, I have found plenty of opportunities to stay connected, both personally and professionally. I formed close relationships with my professors and mentors at Sarah Lawrence and have remained in touch with many of them via email. Whenever possible, I attend events sponsored by the Child Development Institute (in fact, it was at a lecture several months ago that I met the woman who suggested I contact Stevens Cooperative School regarding employment opportunities.) Also, Susan Guma recommended me to represent the Child Development program on the alumnae/i board graduate committee and I will be attending the annual meetings.
What is your most special memory of the time you spent at Sarah Lawrence?
On Barbara Schecter’s recommendation, I submitted a paper proposal to an interdisciplinary graduate conference at the University of Rhode Island called, “Bodies in Motion.” It was accepted and so, weeks before my thesis was actually finished, I headed to Rhode Island with two classmates for my first public speaking engagement. I arrived at URI on the morning of the conference and met a wide variety of people from schools all over the country, presenting research from a wide variety of fields. When it was my turn to present, I approached the podium with my note cards, heart pounding in my chest. But when I saw my friends and Barbara Schecter (who had come to support me) sitting in the front row, and remembered that all I had to do was discuss the work I had spent months thinking, talking, and writing about, I felt nothing but gratitude.