Jacqui Ballestrin had planned to take an extended break before the birth of her third child.
But when she was approached to take on the role of Coordinator of Early Learning at Blackfriars’ Early Learning Centre (ELC), she jumped at the chance.
“I could not say no to this opportunity,” Mrs Ballestrin says.
“It’s an honour to be able to take over. I feel like this is where I need to be.”
Mrs Ballestrin came to Blackfriars in 2007 as a Reception teacher. It was her first job out of university – and she never left.
“I was a beginning teacher, and to still be here when I’m nearly 40, I think, is brilliant,” she says. “I’ve never wanted to leave Blackfriars.”
Last year, she farewelled a group of graduating Year 12 students she had taught as Receptions in 2009.
“You forget how long you’ve been here and it’s pretty special to know that you’ve seen them from when they were 5 – and now at the ELC, from when they’re 3 – up to finishing Year 12. So that’s been really special, to be a part of their journey.”
With a passion for teaching the youngest students, she moved from the Primary School to the ELC soon after it opened in 2013.
“You can see the progress so quickly,” she says of working with the Early Years students.
“And they give you a lot back really quickly, as well. From a smile, or from feeling secure. The other day, a little girl just brought me a flower. That’s how they show that they appreciate what you’re doing.
“I just really like connecting with those little ones.”
While Mrs Ballestrin is on maternity leave, ELC teacher Jasmin Moore will take over as Acting Coordinator of Early Learning.
But Mrs Ballestrin is already thinking about her return to work and how she can make the ELC an even better place.
“Being a bit more part of the community, that’s really important,” she says.
“I know covid has stopped a lot of things, but we used to walk over to Schinella’s once a week, we used to walk to St Helen’s Park. I want to bring that back in. Prospect has a community garden, I want to get back into that. Make those community connections again.”
She says one thing that will not change is the way the ELC staff connect with their students.
Mrs Ballestrin, who was Acting Director of the ELC during Term 2 and for a period last year, was appointed Coordinator of Early Learning following the resignation of Karen McEntee.