Joyce Sibbett: Education through a Child’s Lens

By Devin Felix

March 12, 2014

Joyce Sibbett is the president of Dancing Moose Montessori School, which she founded in 2007 in West Valley City. The school recently expanded to a second location in South Jordan. Each center has the capacity to serve about 240 students and serves students from 18 months through second grade.

What challenges have you faced from a business standpoint in getting the school up and running?

We’ve had a slow and steady pace in expanding our business. We started in 2007 and were hit by a major recession a year later. We were fortunate in having a lot of word-of-mouth advertising—parents talking to parents. They were hungry for an education for young children, and that’s the thing we emphasize most. We’re not here as a care center; we’re here for working parents to make sure that their children are getting a great education at the most critical time of their lives.

Expanding has been recognizing that there is a huge need in Utah for quality education for this young age group. … We have parents who are hungry for that opportunity, and there are not enough programs that can do the kind of education with a small [teacher-to-student] ratio and teachers who are certified with a Montessori background.

What is Montessori education? How does it differ from mainstream education?

It’s education where children have opportunities to choose, and teachers monitor, record progress and provide individual lessons as children need them. It’s very oriented toward each individual’s achievement and to challenge each individual at the highest level possible.

What has been your career path to this point?

My path has been in public education, and I’m still a big supporter of public education. I worked in public education for the first part of my career and then went on to higher education and continued after, getting my Ph.D. and working with students. During my Ph.D. program I started focusing on early childhood. I’ve been a professor at Westminster for the past 18 years and I work with students who are getting their master’s degree in education.

What does public education in Utah most need?

They need more resources for smaller class sizes so that children can have that individualized attention. We have a huge spectrum of needs, and teachers try to differentiate their curriculum to be able to meet the needs of high learners and English-as-a-second-language learners and children with disabilities. When you have children of all those needs across a broad spectrum, you need to have more individualized attention, and that’s something we simply need more resources to be able to do.

What is the origin of the name Dancing Moose?

I’m from Park City, and I have a “pet” moose in my yard all summer long that comes and goes. I love the moose, and I wanted to emphasize our curriculum combining nature and the arts. Instead of an adult’s lens of learning, we wanted to use a child’s lens that could recognize a dancing moose.

What are the similarities and differences of teaching college students and young children?

It’s amazingly similar. Whether I’m teaching master’s students or small children, the most important thing students want is to be recognized, to hear their names, to have a voice and to know that they’re an important part of the community.

Looking five to 10 years down the road, what would you like Dancing Moose to become?

My long-term vision is that I’d like to see more investment in foundations that can support a broad reach of early childhood education—not necessarily Dancing Moose. I would like to see all children in early childhood have an opportunity for quality education, and I believe that if we could make sure that our youngest children have a chance to learn to love learning, they’re going to soar when they get in school. But when you have a huge gap of those who have access to education and those who don’t, that gap widens during their K-12 experience and beyond.

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