MCS Families – Sinem Degerli

By Al Daniel

So far, snakes are the Degerlis’ definitive symbol of living out the Montessori Method at home.

Sinem Degerli, a second-year before-school care guide at the Montessori Community School and a fourth-year MCS parent, has watched with intrigue as her son, Sinan, builds his wisdom in herpetology. Inspired by a Primary playground encounter with a smaller local species, the first-year Lower Elementary student recently gave a research presentation on South America’s imposing anaconda.

All the while, Sinem says, her son is working to instill a less frightful impression of serpents to her, “and his next goal is to pet a reptile.”

Currently enrolled in Lower Elementary Room 302 with two other MCS teacher-parents in Michelle Reader and Jen Tobolski, Sinan has consistently opened his mother’s eyes through the support of Sinem’s colleagues. He had started with Rochelle Hayes and Sue Ferrari in 2015, one year after the Degerlis moved here from Turkey.

Sinan’s father and Sinem’s husband, Ahmet, uprooted the family to advance his own education. He is currently working toward a doctorate at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. For their first year in the area, Sinem kept Sinan occupied at the now-defunct Little Gym of Durham/Chapel Hill. But for the long run, she was expressly eyeing a Montessori setting.

Remembering what she cherished, what was lacking and what she tragically came to miss in her own upbringing, she wanted a place for her son that stressed support over scores and personalized freedom over prescribed feats.

“I was always supported by my dad to find my inner power, but not by the teachers or school system,” Sinem said. “So when I was a little girl, I decided to be that teacher who empowers children to develop themselves.”

She added, “I believe that achievement helps people to get a better job, but not a happy life. Do we prepare our children to deal with any situation as much as we prepare them to succeed in life?”

Sinem endured an unthinkable situation at age 13 when both of her parents perished in an earthquake. The loss of her two closest and greatest champions amidst her childhood spurred her to better brace and empower the next generation.

“No one expected this, but my life changed in just 45 seconds,” she said. “It took me longer to find my path, so I wanted to do something different for my son. So once he finds his own path based on his inner power, he will build up his unique personality, which includes the resilience for any problem that I might not be there to help him with.”

While at The Little Gym, Sinem became acquainted with former MCS parent Laura Olson. The inlet for next year was found, and a goal was fulfilled beginning in 2015-16.

While Sinem’s immersion into the MCS community was comparatively gradual, she sought involvement with an eagle’s eye and a bloodhound’s nose. She would studiously read every MCS email newsletter she subscribed to and sit in on PTO meetings. She represented Turkey on her family’s first International Night, volunteered at Garden Day. and took the opportunity to observe or fill in at a given classroom.

In terms of culture and age groups, this was all new to the former high school Turkish Literature teacher. But amidst Sinan’s rapid burgeoning as a Primary student, Sinem pursued an AMS (3-6) from the North Carolina Center for Montessori Teacher Education. Perhaps fittingly, she completed her certificate in May 2018, one month before Sinan completed his classes at that level.

Now as an elementary guide in the before school care program, Sinem is better able to keep up with Sinan as he moves through his second plane. But during regular school hours, she is assisting in the Primary section while pleasant surprises continue to brew in 302. Although some of the pleasantness grew into the norm as Sinan’s first Lower Elementary year took shape and drew to its recent close.

“I always thought that Sinan was a shy boy, but he was not,” said Sinem. “He showed his unique, strong personality with a sense of humor (in Primary). After moving up to the elementary level, he became more confident.

“I really do not know how Jen and Michelle do that, but when I ask Sinan about his day he always says, ‘I had a fun day today.’ I guess having fun is the key word of elementary level.”

As one anecdote Sinem shared proves, there has been no end-of-the-year bug biting in that room either. Of a moment she heard about secondhand in the first week of June, she recounted, “Sinan must have remembered something happened in the classroom, came to me and said, ‘Mom, Miss Jen is so funny. She does not look like it, but she is. She has lots of jokes like Michelle.’”

As another testament to his bountiful enthusiasm, Sinan took the opportunity to run the Montessori Marathon at this year’s Mini Olympics. Although he will have to wait until April 2022 to join the other events at the school’s annual sports festival, his mother says that is already radiating on his long-term calendar.

In the meantime, the countdown is on until he is a Lower Elementary elder and eligible for Chestnut Ridge, a de facto upgrade on the Occoneechee Mountain excursion he has already enjoyed.

Whether the Degerlis fill the entire checklist of MCS rites of passage will admittedly hinge on where Ahmet’s in-the-making degree takes his career once he attains his degree. With that said, Sinem has gratefully established that “MCS is our second home” and “will always be special in our life.”