Moab Charter School Interim Director Carrie Ann Marinelli and her husband Tony [Courtesy photo]

The new interim director of Moab Charter School is directing a school much different from the one she attended growing up in Flint, Michigan, where there were metal detectors, and police stationed at school dances. While Carrie Ann Marinelli’s neighborhood was safe, school didn’t feel so secure.

Still, Marinelli loves schools and teaching kids, and after years as a teacher of dance, and performing professionally with two different dance companies, she turned her attention to elementary education. Dance and creative movement are among her teaching tools, however.

“I grew up dancing; I studied classical dance at Western Michigan University,” graduating with a bachelor’s degree in dance, Marinelli said.

She performed with a regional dance company in southwest Michigan and taught dance in various school programs, starting when she was 16.

“I loved being part of the school day,” and combining a love of kids, school and dance, she said.

Before moving to Moab four years ago to take a job teaching kindergarten at Moab Charter School, Marinelli, 41, had been living in Montana, where she eventually returned to college to earn an elementary education degree from Montana State University.

She taught elementary school in Missoula and in the Flathead Valley near Glacier National Park before accepting the teaching job in Moab in 2014. Moab Charter School has been her favorite school, she said.

“It’s a family,” she explained, when asked why that was the case. “I’ve always felt included in the inner workings of the school. I’ve always enjoyed the autonomy so we can reach each student in an individual way.”

And, unlike the first school she taught at in Montana, where she was told students “needed to be at their seats and facing forward” at the charter school, Marinelli occasionally has her students up and dancing.

“I’m allowed to bring dance into my classroom – in fact, I was encouraged to bring dance into my classroom,” she said.

She’s used movement (these were kindergartners after all) to teach numbers, the alphabet, weather concepts, and even science and social studies. Dance also helps kids learn body awareness, she said.

Marinelli has taught “whole school dance classes” at Moab Charter School where the entire student population gathers together on the playground.

“We’ll have a hundred-plus kids out there dancing together – it’s super fun,” she said.

From teaching to directing

As a teacher, Marinelli was always one of the first to volunteer to help out with extra tasks, Moab Charter School board member Karisa Larsen said.

“She was willing to help with any project,” Larsen said. “She was always ready with a solution to any problem – so we thought she’d be a good fit,” as the interim director when that position became open.

The job title includes “interim” only to ensure the position works for both the school and for Marinelli, who is married and has a 2-year-old son.

“We’re hoping next year she’ll be full director,” Larsen said.

Marinelli taught at the school during the tenures of the past two directors – one of whom lasted two years; the other, just one. Larsen said she believes that Marinelli was able to see during that time what worked, and what didn’t.

The two previous directors were hired from outside the community and no longer live in Moab. So when the position became open most recently the school’s board of directors decided this time to hire from within, Larsen said.

Larsen was already familiar with Marinelli because she had taught her daughter’s kindergarten class.

“She’s really energetic, happy, positive,” Larsen said. “She’s really good with the children. I enjoyed her as a teacher.”

The school’s administrative assistant, Shauna Vink, who has worked at the school since 2014, expressed similar sentiments regarding Marinelli.

“When I started, we worked together,” Vink said. “I always enjoyed her positive energy – it’s a little contagious.”

Morning circles

As Marinelli starts her fifth year at MCS, she said she has seen some changes as the school has grown in size. She said she plans to restore some family events that used to occur. A Friday family movie night was recently planned as a way to get families together and encourage more parent involvement at the school.

Marinelli leads a “morning circle” each day that includes the entire school body. Students, teachers, and parents who wish to join, gather in the courtyard to sing songs together, perform sign language and occasionally dance. Last week, sixth-graders shared a dance they learned on a field trip with Canyon Country Outdoor Education (a National Park Service program). The movement helped illustrate what the students learned when they viewed fairy shrimp in potholes filled with water.

As a teacher, Marinelli said she developed a strong relationship with the Youth Garden Project. She would walk with her students to the garden for hands-on learning about growing food. They’d also walk to the Grand County Public Library.

She said she wants to continue to build strong connections between students and the community by encouraging her teachers to take their students to places such as Mill Creek, local parks, the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, Museum of Moab, Moonflower Community Cooperative, and the fire station – “all places I’ve taken my students in the past,” she said.

“Learning doesn’t have to happen within four walls,” she said.

What’s a charter school?

Moab Charter School was established in 2004 by a group of parents from Moab and Castle Valley who wanted a small school with fewer students per class.

“A lot of people think the charter school is private, and that you have to pay to attend,” Larsen said. “But it’s state-funded; it follows the common core (curriculum). It’s a free public school.”

Moab Charter School has one class for each grade, including kindergarten through sixth, with each class size capped at 20 students.

With a student population currently at 118, the school is edging toward capacity. Fourth and sixth grades are full, with waiting lists of students who wish to enroll.

The smaller classes allow for a more family-like atmosphere, Larsen said.

“We’re small enough for ‘whole school’ projects, where the entire school body participates together,” she said.

For example, during the recent solar eclipse, students in all of the classes built tools to view the eclipse, then together went to Rotary Park to watch. Older students helped the younger ones.

“We have outdoor classrooms a lot,” Larsen said. “We’re able to do that because we’re small. It’s personally why I chose this school.”

“Carrie understands the school,” she added. “She knows what works. I’m really excited – this year is going really well. I think she’s here to stay.”

Carrie Ann Marinelli moves from teacher to administrator

She’s really energetic, happy, positive … She’s really good with the children. I enjoyed her as a teacher.