Joy & Devotion: Mary Jo Nichols on HSP’s Early Childhood Learning Program

We recently interviewed our new Director of Early Childhood Learning, Mary Jo Nichols, to learn more about her role at Holy Spirit Prep and what makes our preschool and lower school programs unique. Read about how a Latin class in high school inspired her to pursue a career in education, her approach to teaching and why she loves working at HSP, how to keep your young ones learning over the summer, and more.

Mary Jo, can you tell us how you became involved with HSP? What does the role of the Director of Early Childhood Learning entail?

I grew up in Atlanta, right around the corner from HSP and attended Holy Spirit Church as a child, so when I was offered the opportunity to join HSP as the Director of Early Childhood Learning, it was such a gift! It felt like I was coming home. As the Director of Early Childhood Learning, I work with the preschool and lower school to ensure vertical alignment of our curriculum while maintaining academic excellence.

Mary Jo interacts with a young HSP student

How did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in education?

From a fairly young age, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. When I was in 9th grade at Regina Dominican in Wilmette, Illinois, I was privileged to take Latin from a wonderful woman named Sister Rita Cecile. Her method of teaching provided an excellent example of how to strive for excellence while maintaining a joyful classroom. Sister Rita inspired me to do to the same for my own students.

What do you enjoy most about working at HSP?

Here at HSP, every member of the community truly strives to live out their faith. Each day I am inspired to do my best to serve others as I witness students, families, and colleagues pursue excellence in order to glorify God. It is a joy to come to work every day and be part of a community that is dedicated to providing an exceptional classical Catholic education.

Mary Jo attends an HSP preschool petting zoo event

What makes HSP’s preschool and lower school programs unique?

The primary element that sets an HSP education apart is that every course from PreK through 12th grade is taught through a biblical lens. Every year we strive to implement comprehensive Catholic curriculum based on our four school pillars of faith, academics, arts, and athletics. We also have an incredibly devoted faculty and actively involved families that help our students flourish. Currently we offer half and full day preschool options for children beginning at 6 months.

As parents spend time with their younger children this summer, do you have any suggestions about how they can foster their desire to learn and grow?

Before any teacher or advisor, parents have the primary role in educating their children. While every child has unique interests and ways of learning, here are a few suggestions for how to engage any young one this summer:
  • Spend dedicated time connecting with your child every day. Young children love one-on-one time.
  • Create special rituals with them: Play “I Spy” when you walk the dog. Read a story and say prayers together before bedtime, ponder the kaleidoscopic images of the stained-glass windows when you visit your church, or invent a weekly tradition like Taco Tuesday. Little practices such as these go a long way in showing your child how much they are seen and loved!
  • Turn off technology and encourage reading. Children follow by example – not only should you read with them, but show them that you value reading on your own.
  • Have fun and enjoy your children! Being a parent is one of God’s greatest blessings.

Mary Jo Nichols is the Director of Early Childhood Education at Holy Spirit Preparatory School. She received a B.S. in Early Childhood Education from North Georgia College.
Mary Jo has over 25 years of experience in Catholic education, working both directly with students and in leadership. During her time in the classroom, she worked solely with elementary school children, and in 2007 she became the founding director of Holy Family Preschool. Under her leadership, the school grew to serve over 100 children in just ten years. 

Following her time at Holy Family Preschool, Mary Jo served as the Director of Parish-Based Early Childhood Programs for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Office of Catholic Schools. There she worked to enhance and support the 25 parish preschools with PK3 and PK4 programs. She also assisted with curriculum and classroom management, in addition to planning annual leadership forums and in-services. 

With her strong background in early childhood education, she has been featured as a guest speaker at various education forums and conferences within the state of Georgia. 

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