Beloved teacher retires


By Maleeka Marsden


Although Becky Candra’s time at the La Jolla United Methodist Church Nursery has come to an end, her legend will go on, say coworkers and parents of students alike. Candra, venerated for genuine love for children and a unique teaching approach called Reggio Emelia, will retire this August after 27 years of serving as director of the school.

Parents and school supporters honored Candra’s contribution on June 5 at their 12th Annual Gala and Auction held at the Catamaran Resort and Spa. The event drew more than 400 guests including Candra’s friends, family, current students and parents, alumni and alumni families.

“She is just so loving and warm and committed to the children,” said Bridget Musante, an alumni parent, former board member, and current teacher. “She has touched so many lives.”

Families who have attended the school over the years agree that her teaching has left a lasting mark on their children. “You can’t take this place out of the kids,” says Celeste Adams, the parent of alumni.

A local expert in early childhood development, Candra bases her teaching style on the primary education teaching approach known as Emergent teaching, or Reggio Emelia. The philosophy necessitates a supportive and enriching environment in which children can learn through the exploration of their interests, play, and other children, rather than by a teacher-set curriculum, she explained.

“Part of our philosophy is to set up an environment with as few no’s as possible,” said Candra. “Instead we ask, ‘what do you need to try that idea out?’”

To anyone who visits, the nursery is clearly nothing short of being an environment conducive to self-guided learning. In the corner of one classroom sits a collaborative rollercoaster project; next door the art studio displays observational drawings of sunflowers, and outside the garden boasts a colorful collection of vegetables and flowers planted by the children. Other projects of jellyfish, penguins, self-portraits and weaving abound around the classroom, all of which originated with the interests of the children and were made possible by the teachers.

Like many of the followers of the approach, Candra said she loves the style because it recognizes children as capable, competent human beings.

The beloved teacher has served as director for the last 27 years, but started using Reggio Emelia about 12 years ago after reading a number of articles and attending several conferences on the philosophy. The approach was very attractive, she said, “after hearing how thoughtful and intellectual the work was the kids were doing, rather than just cute cut outs.”

Ronit Austgen, chair of the nursery school board of directors, said “Becky’s vision has been the heart and soul of the school. She has combined her experience, wisdom, and intuition regarding the hearts and minds of children to create an environment that nurtures children socially, intellectually and emotionally. We believe the result is children who are enthusiastic and confident learners.”

As much as she will be missed, Candra will miss the school.

“The nursery has given me much more than I have given to it,” she said. Those who know her would beg to differ.

Candra plans to fill her free time with grandson Liam, travel, and college teaching.