In honor of Jessica Thomas, who dedicated her life’s work as Hilltop’s Lower Elementary Teacher, and passed away last week after a yearlong illness with cancer.
Jessica Thomas grew up in London, England and in the 1980’s moved to Vermont with her son, Jed, who joined Hilltop at age three, and thus was her beginning into Montessori education. In 1993, Jessica’s daughter, Zoe, was born and grew up at Hilltop, graduating from the Middle School in 2008.
An interview in 2011 with Jessica by founding Head of School, Tonia Wheeler:
Jessica Thomas taught at Hilltop in four locations – at Center Congregational Church where she was an assistant in Hilltop’s first year of offering an after care program in 1984 (yes, that is correct!), as a lower elementary assistant when the lower el program was at 75 High Street, as head of the lower elementary program when the school moved to Austine in 1991 and finally as lower elementary head when the school moved to its permanent home on the hilltop in 2009.
When asked how her life had changed on the new campus she responded, “The new school is beautiful. The classroom space, the light, the flow – it’s certainly more peaceful than any of the other spaces. The school feels very “grown up” with a real sense of order and a predictable schedule.”
What hadn’t changed for Jessica? “I was drawn to Montessori because of its philosophy – a curriculum that is centered on the inter-relationship of everything. This hasn’t changed, in fact, it’s deepened as I keep teaching and learning. The generosity and enthusiasm of the parents who really care about education. Hilltop has also always had a wonderful staff to work with.”
And a recent reflection by Tonia…“I realize over the last week how often I’ve thought of you and all the different roles you undertook at Hilltop. You were the pioneer I’ll-do-whatever person who is what makes a school thrive. From aftercare, to elementary assistant, to Lower El head teacher with so many very different assistants, you’ve been in every building and just about every classroom space. And you did it with aplomb, good will, and incredible flexibility.
It’s only in retrospect that I realize how vital you were to helping Hilltop to where it is today. Through thick and thin, from one crisis to the next success, you were there and to be honest I never stopped to think how much a part of the school’s success you have been. Many thanks…and know that I hold you in my heart.”
In recent years, Jessica came out of retirement and returned to Hilltop to help with Elementary AfterCare from 2016-2020. She did that with a grace, organization, expertise, and calmness that she always carried with her. And, most recently, she visited the campus to see her daughter Zoe, who carries on the Hilltop family legacy as our Admissions Director.
The many parents, staff, and students whose hearts were touched by Jessica over the years cannot be overstated, she will forever be in our hearts and memories as a Hilltop Montessori School “pioneer” who easily shared her joy and dedication that made our school flourish over so many years.