• Academics
  • News
Teacher Profile: Tai Downs and Marty Oliver, Prekindergarten

Prekindergarten teacher Tai Downs and faculty assistant Marty Oliver savor the opportunity to educate students every day. 

Andrew Mouzin

Prekindergarten teacher Tai Downs and faculty assistant Marty Oliver savor the opportunity to educate students every day. 

The duo have been together for 11 years in the Sunflower Room of the Hibschman Early Childhood Building, working in tandem to carefully challenge and encourage their children as they move forward in their learning and curiosity. 

“We view children as unique, rich in resources, competent and capable,” Tai said. “Every day we are amazed at their level of inquisitiveness, intellect and imagination.” 

Tai and Marty together have almost 60 years of teaching experience with students in early childhood and special education. Tai always knew she wanted to be a teacher. “At 5 years old, I would line up my teddy bears and pretend to teach them!” she exclaimed. Tai received her bachelor’s of science degree in early childhood education from Iowa State University, and pursued teaching at an urban early childhood school in Gary, Ind., prior to coming to PHS. While at PHS, she earned her master’s degree in education from Park University.

Marty has taught at several schools and organizations throughout the Kansas City community, including in the Lee’s Summit and Center School Districts, and in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Truly, my tenure at Pembroke Hill has been a wonderful culmination of my life experiences, and I am thrilled to be a teacher in the early childhood program,” she expressed.

The two have created in their classroom an amazing partnership that coincides with their own common interests. “Nature, travel and family adventures fill our days and it is these passions that we eagerly bring into the Sunflower Room,” they said. “There’s an abundant amount of laughter in our room and our shared interests I think really adds to an already enriching environment in which we both thrive. Our love and respect for one another is boundless!” 

The school’s focus on the Reggio Emilia and project-based approaches to learning feeds into the teachers’ shared feelings toward education. “We see ourselves not only as teachers, but also collaborators, guides and co-researchers with the children,” Marty shared. “In the same way they are engaging and learning about different subjects, Tai and I are learning along with them. We are constantly amazed by their questions and thoughtfulness.”

Both teachers find it is important to slow down and listen to what the children are sharing through communication and play. “As teachers, through our observations, we are able to decipher our children’s interests and help to make learning relevant, meaningful and enjoyable,” Tai said. “We look for different ways we can challenge them while creatively incorporating social interactions, math, science, literacy and other key skills.”

This year, their prekindergarten students have been curious about how adults work, the types of jobs they have and the tools they use to perform their jobs, including how adults use email. Tai shared, “We’ve already sent a few emails to parents, with their permissions of course!”

The teachers delight in watching their former students grow and develop, knowing they helped foster a sense of discovery in their pupils. “It’s amazing to get to know the children and envision what their future holds,” Marty said. “In our classroom, we constantly remind ourselves --- this is the only childhood they have, and we want to make it joyful and meaningful every day.”