As we conclude the semester and the halfway point of my college career, I find myself in a place I never expected to be: I plan on pursuing the career my major is designed to prepare me for – truly shocking, I know. As an early childhood special education major, my plans for the future have always involved using my undergrad knowledge as auxiliary to my main work, either as an occupational therapist or human services nonprofit leader. But that has recently changed. Though, this shift has not left me without doubts. When asked why they chose to study special education, my peers speak of beautiful stories of childhood dreams, transformative teachers, and family members that inspired their interest in disability rights advocacy. In contrast, I find myself wondering, “how did I end here?” After reflecting on this question, I realize that my interest in early childhood special education is not new. Like my peers, it has been in front of me since I was an elementary student myself.
So, in less than 100 words, how did I end up here:
My K-12 education sparked an interest in educational approaches and equities through my attendance of 5 schools with dramatically different demographic makeups and teaching styles. In high school, my work with Columbus Early Learning Centers honed this interest in early childhood education, in particular, because the beginning years of a person’s life are the most important in terms of development. I chose to study early childhood special education over general ECE because special education targets delays and disabilities often caused by societal inequities and allows for an individual approach to education within the public school system.
I’d be remiss to leave out the experiences this semester that have solidified my new path. Most notably, my work with The A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning and an eye-opening conversation with the President of United Way of Central Ohio, Lisa Courtice, at the culmination of my fundraising and philanthropy course.
I don’t expect the plans I hold for myself to stick for eternity. They certainly have changed in the past. However, I am eager to have an answer when people ask me why I decided to become a teacher.
During my K-12 education I attended five different schools each with unique funding sources and demographics. My experience with these diverse institutions sparked an interest in educational pedagogy and the role outside forces play in impacting academic achievement. I was consistently amazed by the similarity of instruction, but difference in academic achievement. Ultimately, these schools led me to Ohio State to study special education and nonprofit management. My interest in education stems from the role it can play in community development and strengthening my understanding of myself, others, and my world.
While attending public school I never questioned the rules and norms that were imposed on my fellow classmates and I as elementary students. However, things changed when I found myself in a new learning community at the start of 6th grade. My private middle school, Leaves of Learning, challenged my idea of what it meant to be a school. The students in my classes were not always my age, my teachers lacked education degrees, and I only attended the program for 14.5 hours a week. My experience as a student was very different from what I had become accustomed to, but nonetheless I thrived in my coursework. For the first time I was surrounded by people who always loved to be at school.
When I left Leaves of Learning to move to a wealthy Columbus suburb, Bexley, my parents were concerned that I would be behind my peers in academics. However, we quickly found that to be the opposite. At Leaves of Learning students were trusted with being responsible for themselves and classes were taught for the purpose of learning and enjoyment. High test scores were never the goal. At Bexley it was clear that the same priorities had not been stressed. My peers struggled with independent notetaking and retaining information from previous courses. My time at Leaves of Learning taught me that working smarter is better than working harder and that tradition needs to be questioned. It inspired a great interest in teaching and the role of the nonpublic sector in spearheading innovation and reform in education.
While a freshman in high school I volunteered for a local nonprofit child care and family services organization, Columbus Early Learning Centers (CELC). I later joined the team through a paid position as an office assistant. This experience challenged my ideas of what a “charity” is and should be. Up until this point in my life when I pictured nonprofits I thought of homeless shelters and food banks. I quickly found that many charities including CELC were complicated businesses with elaborate plans and overhead staff.
I consider efficiency to be one of my strongest held values. This was instilled in me by example at CELC. Helping children in the early years of development is the most efficient way to positively change a person’s life. A dollar invested in the first five years yields a rate of return of 14 to 17%. This is because a child’s brain is being built in the beginning of their life. It is much easier to build strong brains than rehab damaged ones. I have a great interest in working for youth and family causes as I know it is the most efficient and just way to help a person and a community.
My experience with these organizations instilled values of innovation and efficiency that led me to pursue a career in community development and education reform. However, what I have taken from these experiences and organizations expands beyond my academic and professional realms. The values that I have been taught by these groups have a constant presence in my interactions with myself and my world. I am grateful to have learned from a rich and diverse community that has given me the tools to be an informed, well-rounded community member.
Statement of Reality
America is unable to support children and families, particularly in the years before a child enters kindergarten. A tattered network of limited parental leave policy, inconsistent child care regulations, and a patchwork of expensive preschool options has created the current system that squanders children’s potential and puts an undue burden on parents. Subsequently, children and adults are not happy. Parents do not feel adequately supported in their parenthood journey which in turn causes the declining birth rate. American children underperform other students in similarly developed nations in elementary school and beyond. We are committing an injustice to our youth in the short term and hurting our entire nation in the long term. The state of young children is an issue that affects every other social and environmental problem as the solvers of these problems will have been children at the beginning of their life. For better or worse, children grow up to be adults. The role they play in their communities is driven by their childhood.
In an ideal world parents would be supported, children’s development would be respected, and community would be at the heart of how children and families are cared for. All adults would be given the tools to make an informed decision about becoming parents. Those who choose to do so would feel supported and prepared by their community. Families would be given the opportunity to make the best choice for how they care for the child; all options would support the child’s healthy development. Children would grow up to be well rounded adults that have each met their potential.
Theory of Change
In order to achieve this reality social change needs to occur through government policy and in civil society. On the political side of things parental leave policies would need to be put in place similar to those in other developed nations. Comprehensive sex education needs to be a part of high school curriculums, and affordable effective contraceptives need to be accessible for all body types. Additionally, comprehensive parenting and child development should also be required in high school. Teens and adults should be able to make a decision about becoming parents and prepared to do so if they choose to. Without proper education, people only know how to parent in the way they were parented. This creates a great injustice for those who are victims of generational poverty. The current network of high-quality evidence based early childhood education and care programs need to be radically expanded with increased government funding. The vast majority of current childcare programs need to be improved through increased funding and workforce development initiatives. All efforts must work in the interests of children, guardians, and program staff. Failure to do so will create change that is not sustainable in the long term.
Welcome! I’m Sophie, a Columbus native studying in the College of Education and Human Ecology.
After participating in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs High School Internship Program in the fall of my senior year, I knew Ohio State was the school for me and public affairs was definitely not the major. I’m now pursuing my passion for helping people reach their full potential through a major in special education with a specialization in early childhood education and a minor in nonprofit management. I am interested in revising the definition of education and the role “schools” play in youth development to create a system where all, not just some, can succeed.
I was motivated to pursue a career working with children and youth by my work in high school with local nonprofit, Columbus Early Learning Centers. This experience allowed me to see the importance of the early years firsthand and to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of early childhood education. I look forward to growing my knowledge of education and human development through my studies at Ohio State.
This profile serves as my portfolio of all my professional and academic ventures. Have any questions? Feel free to send me a message!