Staff Spotlight: Johan van der Wee


Our Staff Spotlight series is intended to bring recognition to Hershey’s amazing guides and administrators while connecting us with them in a personal way.

This month, we honor

Johan van der Wee


Johan van der Wee is a Children’s House guide at our Concord campus where he has been for six years. Johan and his wife, Katie Bodnovich, are the proud parents of their beloved dog, Betsy, who came from Rescue Village.

Johan earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from the International Agricultural College in the Netherlands, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Dayton. Wanting to further explore a career in education, he enrolled in the Ohio Montessori Training Institute and earned his AMI Primary diploma. 

Here is our interview with Johan:


Where are you from and where do you now live?

I was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and am now living in Mayfield Village. 


What did you do before coming to Hershey?

I did outdoor gardening programs and nature hikes with children and families for Five Rivers MetroParks in Dayton, OH and for the Cleveland Botanical Garden.


What brought you to Hershey?

I was an assistant in one of the lower elementary classrooms in 2001. I loved the Hershey community and was very excited when there was a position for a Children’s House guide many years later.


What drew you to Montessori?

Children learn to make independent choices and are able to excel in areas of strength while working on skills that need more practice. The multiple age group creates an atmosphere for development of leadership and cooperation.


What is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?

Helping children to connect with activities they enjoy doing. It is always a joy to see a child beginning to write their own thoughts. 


What do you do at Hershey that is unique to you?

My education in, and love of, the outdoors combined with my experience working on farms and in outdoor education brings great passion and knowledge to my students. We spend our recess time exploring in the woods rather than on the playground. We see animals and creatures from deer and hawks to toads and salamanders. The connection I’m able to facilitate between my students and nature brings a calm and greater connection in the classroom.


What is your favorite Hershey memory?

Cheering on our parents and children at the “beginning of summer” parade at the end of last school [pandemic] year.


Where is your favorite place to go?

North Chagrin Metro Park and River.


What is your favorite thing to do?

I like running, fishing, biking, gardening, and oil painting.


What is a little-known fact about you?

During my 15 months as a Conscientious Objector from the Dutch army, I worked for an environmental education organization writing brochures and making educational materials for farmers.


Who has made the biggest impact in your life and what does that impact look like?

Spirited children have taught me the most as they encourage me to learn more about myself and how I’m doing things. They cause me to draw deeper from my Montessori training to build and apply myself and to reach the highest challenges. I’m a better guide to all the children because they inspire me to continually grow and be better equipped to handle all learning styles. 


What is your favorite book?

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer and Christian Johnson.


What is your favorite quote?

 “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Max Ehrmann.


What is your favorite movie?



How would your friends and family describe you?

My friends and family will describe me as a kind, patient, and tenacious person who likes to bring happiness and joy to others.


How would you describe yourself?

Always looking for ways to improve a situation.


What is your happiest moment?

Hiking in the Pyrenees by myself.


What is your biggest life lesson you would like to share with others?

Be flexible. Have an open mind in everything you’re doing. Montessori is very prescribed and you follow the method, but I still keep my eyes open to other views out there that may contribute even greater benefit when combined with the Montessori approach.


Is there anything else you would like to share with others?

My years spent in outdoor education and visiting other schools is what led me to Montessori. When I visited Holy Rosary — now Cleveland Montessori — I was invited to do lessons about gardening and nature. Children were happy and self-directed. I knew that if I ever wanted to teach in a classroom setting, this is the kind in which I would want to teach. After 9/11, I evaluated my life and decided it was time to choose a new career path. I realized how important it is to have a world open to peace and that children are our future. Montessori is an education for peace. Life is short, but it is the longest thing that I will know. I want to make a difference while I can. It’s my contribution to the world. The events of 9/11 gave me courage to do something different, to create something different. I reprioritized what was important to me. I gave my two-week notice right after 9/11, and Debbie Guren connected me to Hershey. Sometimes life brings unexpected turns that lead to the most fulfilling, beautiful places.

You’re an inspiration to us all, Johan. Thank you for taking time to share with us. We appreciate you and value all that you bring to our community!