by Mary Schilli
Some of you may have had the pleasure of meeting Natalie Scurry Alston at the Anami student and alumni panel last fall. Natalie graduated summa cum laude from North Carolina State University with an engineering degree and then graduated from Harvard Law School. She now practices law in Charlotte at Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson and is married to Will Alston, an investment banker at Wells Fargo. I met with Natalie to discuss her Anami experience and how it helped her in school and later in life.
Natalie was one of Joan’s first students—in 1987, when Joan taught eight students in a rented classroom at the Temple Beth El on Providence Road (now Dore Academy). She has fond memories of Joan’s dog Haiku and credits caring for the class pet newt with forcing her out of her comfort zone.
Natalie believes that the most important quality she developed in her Montessori years is the desire to learn for the sake of learning rather than memorization for the sake of passing a test. Natalie shared a story about an engineering exam she took in college. She finished the exam with time to spare but had a nagging feeling about one particular problem. She knew she had reached the correct answer, but she didn’t know why it was correct. So Natalie spent the remaining time re-working the problem in order to understand the process of the problem and the solution.
She also said that working in a collaborative environment with children of different ages prepared her well for transitioning to a larger school and, ultimately, working in her chosen profession with a wide variety of colleagues and clients.
Natalie is also involved in the community by serving as the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Charlotte Community School for Girls. That school, which opened its doors this fall, seeks to prepare middle school girls from low-income families for a rapidly changing world and to encourage them to pursue higher education, all by teaching them to think, question, create and solve. I can’t help but think that Natalie’s Anami experience (you may have read Joan’s newsletter article from last fall on her post-Hurricane Hugo trip to Charleston with Natalie) advanced her social awareness and sense of duty towards stewardship in the community and fostered her interest in empowering young girls and, specifically, in Charlotte Community School for Girls.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible affection Natalie has for Joan. To this day, when Natalie says “my teacher taught me” this or that, she means Joan.
Mary Schilli is a retired attorney who volunteers for the Council for Children’s Rights, a local nonprofit agency that advocates for children. As the volunteer coordinator there, she is responsible for recruiting, training and retaining volunteers for the various programs at the agency. Mary is the mother of Anami elementary children Catherine and Maggie.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of Anami’s The Messenger.