It was Wacky Wednesday at Chantilly Montessori, and teacher assistant (TA) Garry Patterson was dressed accordingly in a matching leopard-print hat and scarf set. He was joined by bride and groom teddy bears that he and his wife received the first year they were married.
"The kids just cracked up," Patterson said. "We are big on the social-emotional state of our kids. Today was also pet and stuffed animal day, and the bears were my contribution. This is so different from my Marine Corps days. It allows me to be the opposite of what I used to be."
Patterson has been a TA for two years, both at Chantilly, where he works with teacher Tamara Page and fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. He and his class were at lunch when they were surprised with the announcement that Patterson is the Central 2 Learning Community Teacher Assistant of the Year.
"Honestly, I had to kind of put my head down because I did not want them to see me cry," he said.
Chantilly Principal Ivy Gill said it is a pleasure to work with Patterson and that each day, he exemplifies what it means to teach the whole child.
"He builds professional relationships with each of his students in order to get to know them and their interests," Gill said. "He utilizes this information to spark students' interest in their academic work, and he finds excitement in teaching the Montessori philosophy to his students and watching them grow."
Patterson is a Durham native who earned a bachelor's degree in economics from North Carolina A&T State University. While there, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps delayed-entry program and was in the Reserve during college.
"I wanted to make sure my mother didn't have to worry about me," Patterson said. "After first semester, I went to boot camp and knew I could make it through anything in life."
After four years as a Marine, Patterson and his wife settled in Charlotte. His work always involved service in some capacity, and he coached when his children began to play sports. For five years, he taught life skills and educational programs to inmates at the Mecklenburg County jail through the Q Foundation. He said the job was demanding, but it was rewarding to see the men embrace education. While he still works through Life Connections to keep at-risk youth out of the system, he appreciates the more relaxed environment he has found at Chantilly.
"My first day at Chantilly, they were doing aromatherapy and playing quiet music, and I said, 'Thank you!'" Patterson said. "Working at Chantilly is not like working at all. All the kids are so funny, and being around them is a joy. It's been such a great opportunity, and it allows me to be silly and laugh with them while still teaching them."
Patterson spends a lot of time talking with students and listening. He said everyone has a gift to contribute, and it's his job to find out what that gift is and cultivate it.
"Michael Jordan played for the love of the game. I teach and assist kids for the love of the game," he said. "Everyone has been through a lot, and I want our kids to continue to have a great experience and have a love for learning. It's just wonderful to be able to do something you love."
Gill said the following quote from Maria Montessori represents Patterson and the outstanding work he provides to the school and district: "Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole, which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future."
"Thank you, Mr. Garry, for supporting the future of our students at Chantilly," Gill said. "You are making a difference, not only at our school, but in our world. You are irreplaceable, and we appreciate and value you!"