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Alumni profiles

For Leslie McSpadden (WMS '97), Montessori is All in the Family

Leslie McSpadden recently passed the baton to a new generation of Montessorians in her family. Her daughter, Reagan, started in the Toddler Montessori program at Nardin Academy in Buffalo, New York, in the fall, and Leslie is thrilled to see her engaged in some of the lessons she can remember from her Montessori childhood.

“It’s amazing how [children] start to develop the concept of critical thinking and time management so early on,” she said. “I chose to enroll [Reagan] in Montessori because I’ve always believed in it and I wanted her to be somewhere she would be encouraged to explore and be independent.”

While Leslie and her brother, Brad, were technically the first generation in her family to attend a Montessori school, her mother is former WMS teacher Arlene Wason. Arlene trained as a Montessori teacher while Leslie and Brad were WMS students and went on to teach at WMS for 27 years.

Arlene continued teaching at WMS for 20 years after Leslie and Brad graduated, which helped Leslie carry so many lessons from her Montessori days into her middle and high school years and beyond.

“From the beginning at WMS, we were taught to think critically and to be creative problem solvers and manage our time effectively,” she said. “I had a leg up on my peers that attended different grade schools because I knew how to be an effective time manager and a self-directed learner.”

Following her graduation from WMS, Leslie attended Springer Middle School and Brandywine High School. She began running track in middle school, and by high school she was a three-season runner, running cross country, indoor and outdoor track.

She kept running at University of Delaware (UD), where she ran competitively for the cross country and indoor and outdoor track teams. Following her graduation from UD, where she majored in communications, Leslie worked in advertising for several years - first for a small Wilmington-based agency called DMG Marketing (where she worked with her brother) and later for ING Direct.

During that time, Leslie met and married her husband, Ryan, and moved to Chicago in 2012 so Ryan could do his medical residency. Upon her arrival in Chicago, Leslie signed on with a temp agency in hopes of finding interim work while she sought a permanent position in advertising or communications.

“I was stalking this temp agency ruthlessly until they interviewed me,” she said, adding that the job market wasn’t favorable at the time. The agency identified a job at Northwestern University, and Leslie soon found herself working for the department of surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital as a medical residency coordinator. She began as a temp and was hired on full-time two months later.

“So I stumbled into the world of medical education through a temp agency,” she said.

She was later promoted to general surgery residency coordinator, which put her in charge of running the residency program for the department of surgery -  overseeing everything from recruitment to the resident hiring process to surgery department events. During this time, Leslie attended evening classes at Northwestern and earned her master’s degree in higher education administration and policy.

In September 2016, her daughter Reagan was born, and in June 2017 her family left Chicago for Toronto, Canada, where her husband pursued a head and neck surgery fellowship. A year later, Leslie and her family relocated to Buffalo, where her husband works as a head and neck cancer surgeon.

Leslie expects to make Buffalo a more permanent home, and is hoping to resume her career in higher education administration soon.

“I’m looking for the right opportunity,” she said. “I would like to continue working in medical education or even admissions at a Montessori school.”

While she seeks the right job opportunity, she looks forward to welcoming her second child in mid-February.