Global Perspective; local beginnings
WITC's early childhood education program is celebrating 25 Years!
Its Mission: To prepare students to be early childhood professionals with a
By Elizabeth Whitchurch
global locations – Chicago, New Richmond, Germany’s Rheine River, River Falls –
connect two 2009 WITC early childhood education (ECE) associate degree
graduates, which prepared them to carry out the ECE mission. Meet Lonnika and
Lonnika’s walk to school on the west side of Chicago meant drug dealers,
prostitutes, drive-by shootings, gangs. “It wasn’t a good area,” she says
shaking her head. So at age 14, Lonnika, her mother and three sisters packed
their clothes and boarded a train bound for River Falls, Wis., where the girls’
house was crowded, so Lonnika’s family moved to Grace Place – a temporary
housing shelter. Grace Place helped her mother find work and an apartment in
nearby New Richmond – worlds away from the west side of Chicago.
culture shock in so many ways. I was used to the big city … so many things are
different here. When my new friends asked me to go to ‘Herberger’s’ – I thought
it was a place to get a burger and fries, not a clothing store!” laughs Lonnika.
Lonnika graduated from New Richmond High School, a teacher recommended WITC for
several reasons: it was ideal for a young woman with a learning disability (she
needs extra time to learn) and WITC has a program in which Lonnika holds a
strong interest: early childhood. In addition, WITC is close, less expensive,
and classes are smaller. Plus her job is nearby, and she could save “lots of
money” toward her four-year college goal.
program was an accelerated program, so Lonnika completed an associate degree in
just 10 months. “My car was packed with projects and portfolios,” Lonnika says.
“We were here on Saturdays and until 10 o’clock many nights. Our group got very
addition to her studies, Lonnika works at Bear Buddies, a childcare center. “I’m
the closer and a teacher’s assistant,” she explains. “I do activities with the
kids and get the place all spic and span for the next day.”
closing up the center, Lonnika goes to her live-in nanny job. “I care for two
boys, ages 6 and 8,” she says. “In the evening, we do homework, activities, read
stories, talk about their day. In the morning, I take them to school before I go
22, Lonnika continues at WITC because she is working on a second associate’s
degree as an administrative professional. “I’m not done with WITC. I want to
keep building – I want those extra skills so I’m ready when I go to the
is to graduate WITC (again) May 2013 and start that fall at the University of
Wisconsin-River Falls in the elementary education – early-middle childhood
program for a bachelor’s degree. “I want to work with children,” she says. “I
want to stay in Wisconsin and teach at one of the New Richmond elementary
schools. I get goose bumps whenever I visit. I want to be there, too!”
around the globe, a classmate employs her WITC ECE degree. Alisha Hayes
graduated from WITC’s accelerated early childhood program, in the same class as
Lonnika. But her path led her to a study abroad program in Germany through the
Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals.
Lonnika, Alisha was “exposed to a culture that, though similar to mine, is still
at times completely different.” Part of her experience was a five-month
internship in Leverkusen, along the Rheine River between the cities of Cologne
and Dusseldorf, at a school called Die Rheinpiraten. Her internship and study
abroad program completed, the school hired her as a native English speaking
teacher, where she currently teaches English to German youngsters.
says, “I had planned to return to the U.S. after the study abroad program, but
decided to stay longer. During the Die Rheinpiraten interview, I asked if a
longer-term commitment was possible. We discovered Germany has a similar title to
my associate degree in early childhood, which means I carry the credentials to
do the same early childhood education jobs in both countries. I believe that a
bachelor’s degree would have hindered my specific case as I do not believe I
could have transferred the degree to a German equivalent.
with children up to age 6 in the mornings; and then as lead teacher for older
children in the after-school program. It is a completely different experience
than teaching in the U.S. and it brings new challenges and joys every day,”
to continue at Die Rheinpiraten another year while I begin my coursework online
to complete the Early Childhood Education Transition to bachelor’s degree at
UW-River Falls. After that, I plan to return to the States to finish the
on-campus coursework at the university. Although I hope to continue teaching
abroad, it’s important for me to have a recognized degree in the U.S.
was recently asked to fill in as director at the school she works for, while two
instructors are on leave.
education at WITC was the defining factor in how everything played out for me in
Germany. It was the boost I needed to be able to enter the scholarship program
and the aid I needed to continue to live and work in Germany. WITC was the best
decision for me,” Alisha says.
Lead to New
and Rewarding Career
Wendy Fletcher took courses that would help her care for foster children with
special needs, she had no idea those few classes would lead to a new and
“I got a
flyer in my mailbox about the Wisconsin inclusion credentials,” Fletcher says.
The professional inclusion credential classes offered online through WITC teach
students to work with children who have behavioral and emotional challenges, as
well as special health care needs. Fletcher, who adopted two boys with special
needs, one being very medically needy had passed away a year prior to that, was
also fostering other children with special needs. She saw these courses as a way
to serve those children and future foster children better and had no intention
of pursuing a degree.
wasn’t a full-time student, and I had no plans of going further,” Fletcher says.
“But my instructors Kathryn [Mongan-Rallis] and Vicki [Harmon] told me this
degree was offered through WITC. It was mostly online with a few face-to-face
classes. They really gave me that little push I needed.”
enrolled in the associate degree program, which utilized mostly online classes
with weekly face-to-face sessions.
is now an early childhood teacher at the Red Cliff Early Childhood Center, in
the infant room (birth to one year old.) It’s a career she never knew she
wanted, but is now very passionate about. “I have the best job in the world! I
get to come to work and be with children all day,” she says. “It’s the most
rewarding job I think anyone can have – to know that you’re teaching these
children skills they will use throughout life and guiding them as they grow
older and develop is pretty awesome. Not only are we teaching them, but we are
always learning with them as well.”
plans to continue her education through UW-River Falls to earn her bachelor’s
degree in early childhood education. Fletcher’s current program is also online,
a delivery method that has been ideal for her and her family. “I work full time
and have six kids at home. There’s no way I could actually be in class every
day,” Fletcher says.
Fletcher’s long-term goal is to become an early childhood teacher specifically
for special needs children. Although area school districts often provide
services to Head Starts and childcare centers, Fletcher believes it will be
beneficial to have someone at the center with that specific education and
background. It’s a dream she now has the passion and confidence to pursue,
thanks in large part to the support from her partner and children to help her
along the way.
wasn’t for the very first two instructors – Kathryn and Vicki – I wouldn’t be
where I’m at today,” Fletcher says. “The passion that the instructors show and
the knowledge they share with us was an awesome experience.
Around the World
Ty Gerber discovered the
vocation he was meant for
graduating from Cameron (Wis.) High School, Gerber went to the University of
Wisconsin-Superior, earning a degree in history and political science. During
those years, he developed a special interest in Japanese history, culture and
relations between the United States and Japan. He learned from one of his
professors that people with four-year degrees could apply to teach English in
summer after graduation he decided to look into those opportunities. On July 4
he interviewed for a job with a Japanese company, was quickly offered a position
and found himself standing in Japan on July 27 – his 27th birthday.
a year teaching at the company-run school for children through adults, but
didn’t find it fulfilling. “There was very little conversation,” Gerber says. “I
would talk and the students would look at the Japanese co-teacher who would
translate. As a teacher, I wanted to be able to communicate with the students.”
for a more rewarding teaching experience, Gerber secured a position in a private
pre-school in a small close-knit community. It was a progressive school where
the children were taught to take care of themselves. Many of the parents had
lived overseas and understood the value of their children learning English.
Gerber was happy the small classes of 2-to-6-year-olds allowed direct
interaction. He especially enjoyed teaching the little ones. “Sometimes with the
two-year-olds I’d have to tell them the Japanese word and then the English.”
taught at the school for four years and he came to realize the positive effect
that devoted teachers have in the future of the children and even the community.
“The kind of care that children get early in their lives is so important,” says
Gerber. “Finding good child care should almost be treated as insurance — making
sure they are prepared for the life ahead.”
return to Wisconsin, he checked out the ECE program at WITC-Rice Lake and found
that the curriculum – similar to what he had experienced at the school in Japan
– focused on teaching children independence, as well as respect for others and
he was given credit for all but two of the required general studies courses,
Gerber was able to concentrate on the core class requirements. “The courses are
more focused; and I’m more focused.”
“Ty is a
good teacher, very thoughtful,” says ECE instructor, Amy Pennington Edwards. “He
connects what we learn in class to his job at the child care center. Having a
male role model is beneficial for kids. It breaks the stereotype by letting them
see a man as a nurturer.”
his last semester of the ECE program, Gerber has also started taking courses
toward WITC’s professional credential for child care administrators certificate.
This will enable him to run a child care center and someday reach his goal of
owning a center, maybe even a chain of them.
“I will get to work with kids and have my own business,” Gerber says. “And the
need for child care is not going to go away.”
For more information about the Early Childhood Education program,
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