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Doctor gives back, attributes success to Montessori roots

Posted January 3, 2020 5:00 a.m. EST

Dr. Candace Waters, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, she sees her job as an extension of what she learned as a child in a Montessori classroom. (Photo Courtesy of the Montessori School of Raleigh)

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

Dr. Candace Waters, a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, knew she liked math from a young age.

"I remember doing a lesson where we had a cylinder and we had a cone, and they were the same height, and they had the same base," Waters recalled. "Then I discovered that if I filled the cone with water, I could pour it into the cylinder three times."

Her love for math would go on to serve her well later on in life.

Waters began attending the Montessori School of Raleigh in preschool when her family moved to the Triangle from Winston-Salem. After she finished her first three-year cycle, she tried attending another school in the area for first grade, but it wasn't quite the same fit.

"I think I had grown accustomed to having a kind of fluid experience in terms of my education," she said.

Public school, she learned, despite being for gifted and talented students and having great resources, "just didn't have the same holistic approach as a Montessori School."

She ended up back at MSR, and there she stayed all the way through the sixth grade, the highest grade the school offered at the time. The Montessori School of Raleigh now goes through 12th grade. Waters graduated from high school and enrolled at Harvard University for undergrad and, later, entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Her foundational education, she said, "goes back to my time at MSR."

"My specialty is facial plastic, reconstructive surgery," Waters explained. "The spatial reasoning required for my career can be traced back exactly to my Montessori days. It is kind of funny to sit here in my mid-30s and say that where I am today, in some ways, is all tied to the education I experienced when I was four or five years old."

Waters isn't the only alumna that attributes a significant part of her success to her Montessori roots. Laura Morrison, another MSR alum and a current Montessori teacher, became so conscious of the impact of Montessori philosophy on her life as she was deciding what career path to follow that she decided to become a teacher like those who shaped her educational experience so profoundly.

Morrison also shared that no matter where she's gone, whether to the west coast of the United States or on the other side of the world, former Montessori school students are easy to spot.

"I would meet people and be talking with them and find myself saying, 'You kind of think the same way I do,'" Morrison said. "There's a deeper exploration of topics, a genuine curiosity to hear others' opinions … I can spot it almost every time I meet a Montessorian."

She added, "There is also a specific way Montessori students and alumni approach problem solving that reflects years of experience in working collaboratively to find paths to solutions."

Waters also mentioned this inexplicable "something" when it comes to recognizing fellow Montessori alumni -- no doubt rooted in the unique learning environment in which their education was cultivated. From the self-directed learning approach, to multiple age groups within the same classroom and the global-based instruction, Montessori creates a camaraderie between its pupils that is hard to articulate, but undeniably felt.

Currently, Waters is a clinical professor at Wake Forest University, where she shows residents and medical students how to perform facial reconstruction surgeries.

"In Montessori, the classic model is that you have multiple age groups in the same classroom," Waters said. "And the reason that you do that is that the younger children can learn from the older children. So first you're the student and you learn from others; then later, because of what you now have learned, you teach those who are younger. In surgery, there's a saying that goes, 'See one, do one, teach one,' and it's the same idea."

Waters' choice to pursue facial reconstruction also hails back to a time where she was a facial reconstruction patient herself. She suffered an eyelid laceration as a high school student and said she was surprised at the amount of care she received from the facial plastic surgeon who worked with her.

"Your face, you know, is front and center in every interaction that you have," Waters said. "It is so important to emotional relationships and to the way we communicate with one another."

Ultimately, she sees her job as an extension of what she learned as a child in a Montessori classroom and encourages other students to remember their early learning for touch points to discovering their passions.

"I think if you find something that inspires or motivates you, pursue it," Waters said. "Follow the passion that you have … that is what Montessori teaches you to do, and is also intrinsic in kids."

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

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