A forest with ferns

Tutor Spotlight: Ellen Neelands

Our series of interviews with our tutors helps our families get to know us on a bit more personal level. This month, we feature Senior Tutor Ellen Neelands.

Q: What were some of your most gratifying experiences as a classroom teacher and leader in public and private education?

A: I treasure the moment that a student (earlier convinced he was crocodile rather than human) sat in a chair and read his first sentence. There was the tearful five-year-old, fresh from a refugee camp, who blossomed into an insightful and capable honors student. I still love the occasional surprise hug. A recent one came in a crowded store with the information that a former third grader, once considered “unteachable,” had just been honored as a recipient of the prestigious Harvard Book Award. Seeing my students’ best efforts pay off for them is the ultimate reward.

Q: Everyone at Open Door believes that students learn in different ways, but you are an expert in this area. What are some of the methods you find most useful for nontraditional learners?

A: I always start by asking a student how they learn and what their goals are. Their answer is a snapshot of how they think about their learning, and begins our working relationship. I offer limitless sympathy for students who have felt misunderstood in school, and flexibly draw from a large “toolbox” of techniques to make concepts accessible. I encourage meta-thinking (thinking about thinking), which we know accelerates growth. I relentlessly check that my assumptions are not affecting how I understand a student. We laugh a lot, and celebrate learning strengths and differences.

Q: Your online bio shows that you are passionate about your outside interests. Will you say a little more about your current interests?

A: I’ve been enjoying New England Contra and Irish Set dancing and thinking about the history of social dance over the last century. I dip into historical research and treasure knowing my house was built as a one-room schoolhouse, was moved twice, and at one point housed a railroad roundhouse mule. Necessarily gluten free, I enjoy cooking, the science of cooking, and international cuisines.

Q: Many who have read your bio have to look up the word “mycology” to learn that it is the study of fungi. Are you interested in edible mushrooms?

A: I am an amateur mycologist, and past president of the Boston Mushroom Club. I first became involved with fungi as an excuse to be in the woods. It developed that people enjoy mushrooms for food, medicine, health, science, ecology, photography, drawing, and painting. My special interest is in dyeing with mushrooms: not a reference to poison, but to coloring silk and wool.

Q: Last but not least, you mention that you enjoy being a grandmother. What do you suggest to other grandparents eager to have enjoyable and educational experiences with their grandchildren? What’s your favorite activity with yours?

A: It’s a race to get through all of our wonderful ideas! We are a team, perfectly suited to causing just the right kind of trouble for her parents.

A photo of Open Door Senior Tutor Ellen Neelands. Ellen tutors in Acton and Concord Massachusetts for Open Door Education

A piece of art currently on display in the Acton tutoring office of Open Door Education. Hali also has art in our Concord tutoring space.

Student Spotlight: Hali Moran, Fall 2017 Student Artist

Open Door is pleased to be exhibiting multiple pieces of Concord-Carlisle High School junior Hali Moran’s art through mid-October as part of our student art exhibit series. We asked Hali to comment on how often, as a busy high school student, she finds time to paint, as well as about her study and growth as an artist and her favorite art periods and museums.

“No one artist inspires me, but rather the Fauvism movement overall. Fauvism was a style of a group of French artists in the beginning of the 20th Century, the earliest examples being Cezanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Seurat. The group’s art focuses on fauna and flora with amped up colors. I’m also a big fan of Monet, even though I use acrylics, not watercolor, and I don’t paint in his style. To me, art is about being bold and chaotic, because usually, being that way is frowned upon. However, I am just starting out. Long term, I hope to be able to use watercolor and oil  in my work as well as acrylic.

“I always make it a point to paint at least once a week during the fall field hockey season, but once that ends in November, I paint two to three times a week. I’ve never taken any art classes so I don’t know much about brush strokes or any techniques–so for me walking through the Metropolitan or MOMA (my personal favorites) is more about trying to understand artists’ points of view.”

Hali’s art is on display at both Acton and Concord offices through mid-October.

Hali Moran's art as it is displayed in our Acton tutoring office. Open Door Education also tutors in Concord.
Hali’s art display in our Acton office

Goat painting by Kincaid DeBell, student artist from Nashoba Regional, on display at Open Door Education, a tutoring office in Acton MA and Concord MA

Student Spotlight: Kincaid DeBell, Summer 2017 Student Artist

First of all, Kincaid, thanks for sharing your art with Open Door! Everyone enjoyed viewing your pieces in the front office area. We had a few questions about your process and preferences, and we appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with us.


Q: What is your favorite media, if you have one?

A: I love to try everything, but right now I’ve mainly been working with watercolors, as well as drawing individual people and faces using pen and marker. I enjoy drawing faces because I want the audience to connect with the subject the way I have. I hope that others can relate to the art and feel the emotion I attempt to convey.


Sometimes I make “DIY” crafts at home or school. Even though I mainly stick to my pens and pencils, I consider any creative project art, if it is something that provokes or creates an emotional, intellectual, or visceral response.


Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A: I am NEVER without a pencil, pen, or marker in my bag or pocket, No matter where I am. I never know when inspiration will strike. Also, I’m always daydreaming about art! I usually have three or more ideas in my head at all times. That makes it hard to go to sleep some nights.


Q: You shared with your tutor that you have dabbled in fabric design. Can you tell our readers a little about a project that resulted?

A: Recently I was chosen to represent The North Face and create a design for their youth base. My entry started as a doodle, then a sketch, and then it evolved into a piece of artwork. The more I thought about it, the more I was able to add color and detail. And then it represented me.


By the way, my designs will be available for sale at The North Face Fall 2017 in hoodie sweatshirt and winter jacket form.


Q: We have heard you are interested in both science and art. Do you plan to focus on one or try to combine the two disciplines?

A: I am interested in combining art and science. For me, the two subjects mesh easily–both require skill and knowledge, and science requires more creativity than a lot of people assume, especially in solving problems and creating new technology. Also, I’d like to show the people who aren’t necessarily interested in both areas that these subjects can be combined and enjoyed.


Q: Speaking of combinations, you are also a creative writer. Do your writing and art projects overlap?

A: There is a connection between my art and my writing; both are whimsical and flowery. My whimsical art and writing represent my and others’ younger selves, as well as the inner child that survives into adulthood. In both writing and art, I’m working on the more serious side. I don’t usually share my more serious work, and I hope it will improve. I believe it will come with time and practice.


Q: Which art classes that you have taken have been your favorite?

A: The best art classes I have taken are at Acton Art! I really recommend them!

Student artist and her work in Acton, MA tutoring office
Kincaid and her art

We have so enjoyed having you as a student this year! Good luck this fall as you move on from Nashoba Brooks and begin Concord Academy.


If your teen artist would be interested in exhibiting at Open Door, please contact leann@opendoor.education. Having now exhibited art by students from Acton-Boxborough Regional High School and Concord Academy, we are eager for more!