An Unassuming Brilliance

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Birthdays are always special, but in Liza Akeret’s “4’s” class at Epiphany Community Nursery School, they are marked with a birthday crown, special song and handmade cards. Parent Anthony Pratofiorito recalled his daughter’s recent celebration. Akeret asked students to say something that they liked about the birthday girl, and compliments ranged from, “She likes to play with me on the rooftop!” to “She’s my girlfriend!” At home later, his daughter was bursting with excitement: “Did you hear all the things my friends said about me?” Pratofiorito recalled her saying.

That animation is in Akeret’s class every day of the year. Students observe themselves grow as they draw four seasonal self-portraits. During a unit on primary colors, youngsters became master craftsmen, creating their own stained glass; each child was given clear plastic and a collection of different shapes in primary colors, which they overlapped, exploring new colors. Parent Barbara Yastine

Photo by Isaac Rosenthal

Photo by Isaac Rosenthal

marveled at the lesson: “My daughter talked about and taught me about primary colors for six, eight weeks after that,” she said.

The crafts that Akeret’s students create go beyond those of a typical nursery school. Parent Chryssanthe Detroyer was surprised when her son brought home a necklace for Mother’s Day that wasn’t the classic macaroni and string concoction. Detroyer frequently wears the beautiful beaded necklace, drawing compliments.

Akeret graduated from SUNY Purchase and began to pursue an interest in social work. Seeking more experience, she branched out and soon found her niche instructing 4- and 5-year-old children.

“I just feel like children this age are so optimistic and they are so full of life and fun,” she said. “And they are always looking so wonderfully at the world in terms of being positive and happy.”

She received a master’s degree in early childhood from Bank Street College and has been teaching at Epiphany since the fall of 2001.

Beyond the creative projects she develops, Akeret finds exciting ways to teach the fundamentals.

“She’s got this sort of unassuming brilliance,” parent Yastine said.

For example, each week, students share an object that they have brought in that starts with the “letter of the week.” In their alphabet books, the children practice writing and drawing pictures of the objects. Recently, after completing a page each week for months, the books were finished. One proud student, when asked what she wanted to read during rest time, responded, “Can I look at my alphabet book today?”

Akeret is known to be in the classroom early in the morning and late in the afternoon, verifying that every detail is perfect.

“We just want to provide a warm and nurturing environment where children feel that they can explore and make mistakes,” she said.

She assures youngsters that despite their size, their voices and concerns are valid. Interested in environmentalism and animal rights, Akeret teaches her students to take care of both where they live and each other. Students watch tadpoles develop and keep moss gardens in the classroom.

Whether guiding her students through exhibits in the American Museum of Natural History, apple-picking or making calendars in the classroom, Akeret is calm and patient, never raising her voice.

“They respect that authority in an instant. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Pratofiorito said.

As Yastine puts it, “It’s hard to figure out her secret.”

Liza Akeret
Nursery School, Epiphany Community Nursery School

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