Bridgeport mother and daughter are a class act

Duo work together at Housatonic's Early Childhood Education Program

By Amanda Cuda, Staff writer, CT Post
Updated: 05/09/2009 11:59:05 PM EDT

BRIDGEPORT -- Monsie Feliciano and Marlene Guzman sat a few yards apart, on opposite sides of a classroom in Housatonic Community College's Early Childhood Laboratory School.

That morning, the classroom was buzzing with activity: young children played dress-up, listened to stories, and engaged in any number of activities. From their opposite ends of the room, Feliciano and Guzman supervised completely different tasks. Feliciano sat at a table, helping a group of kids learn the finer points of watercolors, watching as they painted their colorful creations. Guzman, meanwhile, buzzed throughout the classroom, mainly watching over the children playing on the classroom's computers, but also tending to a few boo-boos suffered on the school's playground. Both women seemed completely absorbed in their separate tasks, so focused on the children that they barely acknowledged each other. In fact, if it weren't for the physical resemblance between them, you might have no idea that Feliciano and Guzman are mother and daughter.

Feliciano, 45, is an assistant teacher in the lab school, and has worked there since 1995. Guzman, 26, is a student in Housatonic's education program, and has been off and on since 2004. They both work in the lab school, a fully-functional preschool that's part of HCC's Early Childhood Education Program, and have done so for roughly a year.

It's an arrangement they both love, even if it was a little difficult for their young students to grasp initially. "At first, the kids didn't get the concept," Feliciano said. "They were like 'You're a teacher. How can you be a mommy?'"

Once the children -- who refer to the women as Miss Monsie and Miss Marlene -- got used to the idea of a mom and daughter occupying their classroom, they tried to use the situation to their advantage, threatening to tattle whenever Guzman did something they didn't like. "They say 'I'm going to tell your mom," Guzman said.

Despite the kids' best efforts, Feliciano and Guzman said there's little tension in their working relationship. "We get along great together," Feliciano said.

Feliciano first started working in the lab school as part of a work-study program while she was a student at Housatonic. She stayed on at the laboratory school even after earning her associate's degree in early childhood education from Housatonic. She first took a job as a part-time education assistant at the school, then moved up to assistant teacher. Feliciano said she loves working with children, though she finds her students to be a bit more challenging than her own children (Guzman has a younger brother).

"They're definitely a lot more active," Feliciano said. "Our room is always so, so busy."

Still, she loves the relationships she builds with her young charges. "My favorite part is seeing the kids smile and getting hugs," Feliciano said. "The kids get attached to us, and we get attached to them."

It was through her mother that Guzman first became interested in teaching. While growing up, she used to visit her mom at the school frequently and was impressed by what she saw. "I loved seeing her work with the kids," Guzman said.

Eventually, she joined Housatonic's program and began working at the laboratory school. The children who attend the school range in age from three to five, and can be there anywhere from a few hours to all day.

There are two classrooms and Guzman and Feliciano don't always work together. But even when she and her mom don't share class space, Guzman still derives inspiration from her mother. "When I'm in a tough situation with the kids, I always think 'What would my mother do?'" Guzman said.

The woman also live together, in Bridgeport, along with Guzman's husband. But, like their working relationship, Feliciano and Guzman said their home relationship is fairly tension-free. It also provides a lot of opportunities for them to debrief about their days at school. "We share experiences and talk about the kids," Feliciano said.

Laboratory school director Heidi Szobota said she isn't aware of another mother-daughter team that has worked at the school at the same time, but she's impressed with the dedication both women bring to the job. She has known them for a long time, and remembers when Guzman was just 12 years old, visiting her mom at the school. "She's kind of grown up here," Szobota said.

She said the mother and daughter work well together, and are able to treat each other as peers. "When they're in the classroom, they identify themselves as teachers," Szobota said. "Their personalities make this work."

The pair might not be working together much longer. Next fall, Guzman will transfer to Southern Connecticut State University to pursue a degree in elementary education. Once that's complete, Guzman isn't sure what she'll do. In the meantime, she's enjoying working with her mom, and teaching the kids at lab school. "I love it here," she said.