Pre-K director Mitzi Mapa-Contes celebrates Spirit Week with Pre-K student Eloise ('32) and brother Ollie ('34) Pan in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Mapa-Contes)

Director of Pre-K program plans to return to Singapore to teach at UWCSEA

Director of Pre-K Mitzi Mapa-Contes moved to Sacramento in 2018 and stepped onto Country Day’s campus tasked with re-imaging the Pre-K curriculum. Nearly three years later, Mapa-Contes plans to return to Singapore to teach at United World College of South East Asia.

She had lived there for seven years and found the lifestyle and convenience of being in a big city appealing, so returning to Singapore to teach at United World College has always been her dream. In addition, being in Asia means she can visit her family in the Philippines frequently while also being able to travel easily to other Asian countries.

“It’s such a dynamic multicultural city that is a really good place to live in for both me and my husband,” Mapa-Contes said. 

She said teaching at Country Day has provided many opportunities for her to grow as a teacher and make friends. 

“It really did feel like family,” she said. “I don’t have family in the States, so it felt really good to be part of a community where I felt it was like my second home.” 

She will miss most of the friendships she has built with her co-workers, her students and their families, she said. 

“Something that I really appreciate about my co-workers is the trust they put in me,” Mapa-Contes said. “I felt safe. I was able to innovate, try new things, make mistakes and learn from them.”

 Stephanie Castillo, a co-teacher in the Pre-K class said Mapa-Contes’ dedication to understanding children has been inspiring to her teaching

“We have had our fair share of laughs together in Pre-K,” she said. “People who work with 4- and 5-year-olds will never tire of their ability to turn even the most challenging moments into ones that make our hearts swell.”

Head of Lower School Maisae Affour has mixed emotions about Mapa-Contes moving.

 “Part of me is very sad to see her leave our community and move to Singapore,” Affour said. “But as an educator who worked internationally, I am excited for her to have an enriching new adventure in her career and life.”

In the time she has worked with Mapa-Contes, Affour noticed her passion in helping young students learn complex concepts like understanding and respecting differences between each other.

“Some notable strengths of Mapa-Contes is her vision and passion for Pre-K, as well as her transformative leadership,” Affour said. “You don’t even have to go to PK to understand what I’m talking about. All you have to do is watch PK kids skip their way to class in the morning.”

Mapas-Contes was also able to develop an enriching learning experience, which consists of six units of conceptual learning and interactive play. 

The Pre-K curriculum is taught through a structure where students learn through hands-on interaction guided with questions posed by their teachers.

The school year is split up into six-week sections where students engage in Units of Inquiry. Mapa-Contes’ highlights of the school year are seeing her students present their learning to their parents at the end of each unit.

“It is so beautiful to see children take ownership of their learning and really be very proud of how far they’ve come,” Mapa-Contes said.

The only thing she will not miss are the spiders on the playground.

Mapa-Contes plans to carry over the same teaching methods she has used at Country Day. She said there are a lot of similarities between the programs.

 “We all say play is the work of the child,” Mapa-Contes said. “The only way we learn, even as grownups, is when we explore, tinker and have hands-on experiences with things we enjoy and are interested in.”

As Mapa-Contes prepares to walk the next chapter in her life, she still plans to continue connecting with the friends she made in America.

As for the Country Day community she is leaving, she has confidence in her co-workers and its students to continue its rich curriculum in the coming years.

“I’ll miss the program, but I am leaving with a very good certainty that the team will continue this legacy of joyful learning, play and the wonder that we tried to cultivate with our youngest learners,” Mapa-Contes said. “I feel very confident that the program will continue to grow as it is in good hands.”

— By Garman Xu

Originally published in the May 25 edition of the Octagon.

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