Alumni Spotlight: Maurie Ponder - a Former Abintra Student, Current Abintra Parent, and Nashville Educator

By Emily Allen and Abintra students Anabel and Kiki

“I’ve been in education my whole career, and I think that traces back to what a safe, joyous place school always was for me, which started at Abintra.” - Maurie Ponder

Maurie Ponder is an Abintra parent, but she’s more than that: she herself attended Abintra in its earliest years. We enjoyed her bubbly personality and enthusiasm during our time together. Maurie shared her memories of Abintra and interesting insight into the life of an Abintra student in the early 80’s, as well as how her time at Abintra influenced her life experiences.

Maurie attended Abintra from 1984 to 1988, during the equivalent of her 1st through 4th grade years (Abintra ended at 4th grade at the time). She transitioned to Nashville public schools for middle and high school, where she loved studying English and Science. She told us, “I was a bookworm from a very young age. I was an early reader and always loved to read, so English was something I gravitated towards. I also really loved Science. High School Chemistry was one of my favorite subjects.”

Maurie pursued English as an undergraduate at Davidson College, a small liberal arts college in North Carolina. During her time there, she explored multiple interests including theater, music, and psychology. In the spirit of a Montessori kid, she “wanted to take lots of different classes and try a lot of different things.” After college, she earned her Masters in English Education at Vanderbilt.

Her career after college took her in several different directions, all related to education. After receiving her Masters, she spent about eight years teaching in the Metro Nashville public school system. She left the position to focus on starting a family and began tutoring, which led her to Learning Lab, where she loved working with students one-on-one. In 2015 she moved into her current positions as Assistant Director of Learning Lab and Head of After School Services. She told us, “I help guide families whose kids need extra academic support in all areas. I still get to work with students from time-to-time, which is great. I love my job. It’s fulfilling and fun, I love the people I work with, and I’m very lucky.”

Maurie believes that her time at Abintra helped inform her positive outlook on learning and career in education. “I’ve been in education my whole career, and I think that traces back to what a safe, joyous place school always was for me, which started at Abintra,” she told us. When asked about how her time at Abintra influenced her future experiences, she said, “I always loved school from the very beginning, and I think that has a lot to do with my time at Abintra. When I was at Abintra school was never boring. It was always fun, and there was always joy in everything we did. That’s just how school was to me. I think Montessori understands child development and that children really want to learn. I think that sadly, some kids have experiences in school that dampen that, and Abintra really stokes it — that love of learning and natural curiosity that’s already there. When I did transition to traditional school, I thought, ‘What’s next? Let’s see what this is all about!’”

When Maurie graduated from Abintra, she carried with her a love of learning and education, as well as respect for other people and the natural world. She said, “I think that Abintra, and Montessori, and the way that Montessori approaches education, is very respectful towards children, so children are respected and learn how to be respectful of all people, nature, and their personal environments.”

Maurie’s time at Abintra, her career in education, and her experiences tutoring Abintra students at Learning Lab all led to her decision to send her daughter to Abintra, where she is currently in the Lower School program. She told us, “I had some experiences with Abintra students through my work. They were wonderful young people and I was super impressed with them. I thought, wow, if this is what Abintra is doing, I’m definitely interested! Also, seeing the whole range of what’s out there in education, it’s hard to not want this for my daughter.”

Maurie knows that her Abintra in the 80’s was very different from her daughter’s Abintra now, but is certain that there is one thing they both have in common: they’re very special. She told us, “It’s really fun and exciting to get to know my daughter’s Abintra and to see what it’s like for her through her eyes.” At the time Maurie attended Abintra, it was housed at Saint David’s Episcopal Church. When thinking back to her favorite memories, she said, “There’s a giant hill, and we would roll down that hill all the time! And we weren’t supposed to do this, but occasionally we would sneak into the sanctuary and poke around and feel very rebellious.” Her only regret is that she wasn’t able to attend Abintra through 8th grade, as those classrooms didn’t exist at the time.

Her advice to current students is to savor the time spent outside. She said, “Enjoy playing, not being on screens, getting to just be a kid and doing kid things. In a lot of traditional school settings, you don’t always get the amount of time outside that you do at Abintra. You also get time to explore and make choices and decisions for yourself, and the opportunity to delve deeper into topics. Soak it all in!”

Maurie still loves to read, and cites Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Shakespeare as some of her favorites. She enjoys seeing shows at TPAC, singing in the Vanderbilt Community Choir, and spending time with her friends and family.