zeena

A Message from Sue

Dear Step One Friends and Family,

After 33 years of working with Zeena Cameron, one of the beloved founding teachers of Step One School, it is my honor and great pleasure to introduce this issue of our newsletter ‘Step One Connect,’ which celebrates Zeena on the occasion of her retirement. 

All of us who have experienced working with and learning from Zeena know she comes from a place of pure love. "Starting from the heart,” our school motto, embodies Zeena and how she shows her love with kindness and compassion and also with strength, helping children become allies and stand up to injustice. (In fact, Zeena is the one who originally wrote “love is love is love” up on Step One’s gatehouse, where it inspires us on the yard every day.) Zeena never hesitates to be in there with the kids working out difficult situations, which connects to her commitment to the world and also her commitment to learning

As a life-long learner, Zeena is exemplary. She is intensely curious about all the ways kids are learning, whether it’s learning to form letters or working to make a new friend. She delights in their success and mastery. Zeena is also expert at supporting children to break down concepts to help them succeed with new material. And once her students have grasped what they are trying to learn, she really celebrates it with them. 

Zeena continues to explore new things. In recent years she's gotten more interested in the mind-body connection. Her own practice of tai-chi and meditation have influenced her teaching and how she responds to the kids, with a central focus on building peace in the world. She reads voraciously about all kinds of subjects, which is why I’m so thrilled that Zeena is going to be our first Step One librarian, doing a deep dive into the children’s literature she loves to support all our teachers. 

I am so pleased to share just a few of the many reasons why working alongside Zeena Cameron for the last three decades has been an absolute joy, and to introduce others’ testimonies to her generosity and her impact. Zeena, we love you, and you will always be a part of Step One School!

Friends Forever,

Sue Britson

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"How Marvelous": An Interview with Zeena Cameron

Zeena Cameron has been teaching at Step One since 1986 and is one of the beloved founding teachers who shaped our school. She describes her teaching history and philosophy, why she loves working with kids, and more. 

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How did you start at Step One?

I was doing in-home childcare. One of the kids I cared for started at Step One and Sue visited me to discuss the transition. Later, Sue contacted me about an opening at Step One, but my youngest wasn’t kindergarten-age yet. It turned out that Sue had spots for us both! My daughter graduated Step One after one year: now it’s my turn to graduate after 33 years, the same year as my grandson. Time has come full circle.

After 33 years, how have you kept enjoying teaching and kept your passion alive?

Part of it is the professional development we get at Step One that introduces me to new and exciting practices around the world. The kids keep me passionate, too! Every year you have new kids that are all so special in their own way. They teach you to teach them. I love sitting down before conferences because I can focus on one child. As I write about the child, see the child in photos from the year, I say “How marvelous.” I see the wonderfulness of each one.

Do you have any advice for future Step One teachers? 

Make sure you're doing the basics. Teach the kids to wash their hands, to go the bathroom independently. Kids’ worlds grow from there. I started with Montessouri so practical life skills are important to me. 

What is your teaching philosophy?

I try not to use the word “can’t.” “Can’t” is too limiting a thought. If the kids are going to say ‘can’t,’ I ask them to use ‘yet’ with it: “I can’t do it yet, but I can learn if I try!” 

What’s your favorite thing about working with kids?

Watching the spark when they thought they couldn’t do something and then it clicks. Seeing them be kind to each other. Also, literacy and language inspire me, and helping kids express what they want to say. 

What does Step One mean to you?

This is a special place. It has given birth to many wonderful futures for adults and children alike. It's always been a family-like community where teachers look out for each other. Plus, I can go anywhere in Berkeley and see people I know and hug and talk with them. Teenagers will be hanging out with their friends and come and hug me. How special is that?

What are you looking forward to in retirement?

This is a happy and sad event for me. For a long time I couldn't talk about it because I would start crying. But hard as it is to leave, I’m looking forward to quilting, traveling, reading leisurely, horseback riding, meditating, yoga classes...it’s a long list!

Are you excited about becoming Step One’s first librarian?

I love books and I can’t wait to have the time and energy to focus on our collection, and to support our teachers who love good books but might not have time to search them out.

An Appreciation of Zeena from Amalie Hazelton

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Amalie Hazelton and Zeena Cameron taught together for many years in Room 2.

I love Zeena so much. She was one of my first mentors at Step One and took me in from the very beginning. Zeena would give you the shirt off her back and became a part of so many different families. Zeena never stopped learning. Any class the school wanted someone to go to, she was first to volunteer. She has so much knowledge as a teacher, a lot of energy, and a big personality: we laughed so much together. Books were always huge for her; I’m excited for her to be the school librarian. She was always on the library's wanted list because half the library was in our classroom!

Zeena was totally devoted to teaching and went the extra mile to make things special. We had a sand-table that was a therapeutic kind of space with all these little figurines and animals, where kids could make little worlds. A lot of emotional development happened there. That was Zeena's special space: she loved to find little perfect things to help children express themselves. 



An Appreciation of Zeena from Rakhee Sharma

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Rakhee Sharma is a Step One Board member and parent of alum student Anay.

My son Anay, who is 15, was in Room 2 for two years with Zeena. Zeena is such an impactful educator, a force of love, lightness, and laughter - with a wonderful sense of humor! Her being and ethos are all about curiosity and generosity: putting herself in her students’ shoes. That was inspiring to me as a parent. So was her incredible way of imparting life skills in a way that appeals to young children. She sparked so much creativity and love of school in my son. He actually came back to Step One this summer, to work with Zeena in the classroom. Zeena has a special magic, and our family will always hold her in our hearts.

Plus some words from Rakhee’s son Anay:

Zeena was more than a teacher for me. I never had the opportunity to have my grandma live near me but Zeena always made me feel like she did. When I visit Zeena I get drawn back into the magic world of Step One. I volunteered at Step One this summer and it felt like I never wanted to go. Zeena has poured so much of her love and soul into Step One that she will never really leave! She remembers the name of every student that has been in her classroom. Even though I am now 15 years old and 6 feet 2, Zeena can hug me and I feel like I am still part of Room 2!

The photo above shows Anay in Room 2, holding the #1 sign.

The photo above shows Anay in Room 2, holding the #1 sign.

Photo Gallery: 33 Years with Zeena Cameron

We are pleased to share some photos (and a video made by Anthony Taylor) that represent Zeena's years at Step One. We know these images represent only the smallest portion of the wonderful times Zeena shared with children and families. Please send in your photos of Zeena and your family to laurenlevin@steponeschool.org and we will be sure to share them with her!

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