Monna Istranyi has always been drawn to education.
Today, she runs both marketing and admissions for Polis Montessori World School, but her thoughtful journey to get here included an extensive corporate career first — experiences that only validated what she’s always known: She loves school more.
Monna grew up in Shanghai but was eager to come to the states for college.
“When I was young, my dad would watch a lot of Hollywood movies with me, and whenever I saw the sky, I would think, ‘There’s no way the sky is that blue. It has to be special effect,’ ” she says. “In China, I never really got to see true blue skies, so I knew I had to come here to see for myself how blue the skies really are.”
Monna studied language education at Rutgers University, then went on to student teach for a bilingual program before beginning her first job at HudsonWay, a language immersion school in New York.
“There was only one director and two teachers, and I was one of them,” she says. “The first year was very challenging, because I didn’t yet have an early childhood education background. But the director there inspired me so much and helped me to change my approach to teaching. She encouraged me to stay there for three years — which is very in line with Montessori — because you can really achieve consistency with the children, and she was right. Within those three years, all of my students were fluent in Mandarin. I really appreciated that experience.”
Monna also received in that time her masters degree in early childhood education.
“That was so beneficial for me, because I got to have this balance of the theory and then the actual practice with the students in the classroom at the same time,” she says. “And, I just love working with children ages five and younger. The way they learn is so natural! They absorb everything around them, and that really inspires my teaching. Instead of just meeting objectives and benchmarks, I can help the child learn in a way that is fun and child-led.”
Event planning and management growth
But, Monna was still curious. She had experienced the schools in the United States and was enjoying the work, but she still felt a longing to see the corporate world. What would it be like to work for a larger business?
She started at Tory Burch, working in IT, and she stayed for two years.
“The CIO and I worked well together, but it was very intense,” she says. “He would put me on a lot of different projects, which helped me to practice skills in project management and events.”
Then, he left for Royal Caribeean, and she followed, now organizing larger-scale events around the nation and learning about the technology on the cruise ships. It mattered, and she enjoyed the work, but the corporate world only brought her mind back to the school.
“I would sit in on these meetings with top executives, amid these big conversations about IT and problems, and all I could think about and focus on was their pencil grip. I kept thinking, ‘Where did they receive their preschool education?’ A three-finger grip is key in early childhood education, and, through my observation, it was surprising to me that many adults don’t have a proper pencil grip!”
She would also look to their social, emotional and problem-solving skills and instinctively apply her own teaching.
“Even in the big corporate world, I was constantly thinking about education,” Monna says. “A lot of people would think that business and education don’t match, but I was always helping my colleagues solve problems from an educational perspective and with techniques I would use in the classroom.”
Not only did a return to education make sense to her, but teaching in a Montessori classroom was an ideal fit.
“I knew that young students were capable of learning these kinds of social development and life skills early on, but seeing how well teachers work with students in a Montessori environment just proved to me how well children can thrive in quality early education.”
The parents I work with at Polis are the CEOs and the marketing directors in the corporate world. Because I used to work with them, I understand what they are looking for, and I know how to positively communicate with them.
Monna has been with Polis since it began a couple years ago, and even though she didn’t stay in the fast business world, she continues to lean on her corporate experience as a great tool for helping to connect with families at Polis today.
“The parents I work with here, they are the CEOs, the CIOs, and the marketing directors in the corporate world,” she says. “And because I used to work with them, I understand what they are looking for, what they need, and how they want their child’s educational experience to be in the school. I know how to positively communicate with them, and that helps us a lot.”
Monna has been patient with her career, thoughtful in the way it’s progressed, and it’s been worth it. At Polis, she’s part of something special.
“I feel like I’m in a big family here,” she says. “Children rely on us, we really are their role model. And with the families, they become like my second family. Even when we’re not in the same school anymore, you continue this kind of community. You bring them with you, and we’re all in this educational journey together. I feel very accomplished in that.”