MORRIS – Five years ago, Jordan Wilson never thought she would be sitting in front of a class of preschoolers, singing songs and teaching letters. But that’s exactly where the Coal City preschool teacher was Tuesday morning.
“I wasn’t even certain I wanted to be a teacher,” Wilson said. “Then I took that class.”
As a senior at Morris Community High School, Wilson enrolled in the early childhood education program offered through the Grundy Area Vocational Center. Now, she and fellow MCHS graduate Kelly Borchelt can thank the early childhood education program for jump-starting their careers.
The two currently teach, Borchelt at Saratoga School in Morris and Wilson at Coal City, and help current GAVC students through the early education program by letting the students earn clinical hours – or hands-on training – in their classrooms.
“I have to say, it’s pretty awesome,” said Deb Eungard instructor of the early childhood education program. “It’s like a full circle moment for me.”
Eungard began teaching the early education program five years ago. Wilson and Borchelt were two of her first students.
“Of the original 18 that I had in that first class, four have graduated and already have jobs as teachers,” Eungard said. “Each of my seniors put hand prints on the wall when they graduate. Now I can look at those prints and know where a lot of them are.”
The early childhood education course is a two-year program offered to juniors and seniors at GAVC. The program equips students with the professional skill set needed for teaching and offers clinical hours that students can use for college credit.
“It’s designed to give them an introduction to the teaching profession,” Eungard said.
Students enrolled in the childhood education program for both years will graduate high school with 200 hours of clinical time. Eungard said she still aims to provide 140 clinical hours to students in the program for only one year.
Borchelt said her coursework at GAVC gave her an advantage over her peers at Illinois State University and even allowed her to graduate a semester early.
“I already knew how to write lesson plans and how to be professional in a classroom,” Borchelt said. “I also had experience actually working in front of the kids, which is huge.”
Eungard said she wants students to leave the program knowing exactly what it takes to be an educational professional. Her class often serves as a litmus test for students who are on the fence about going into the profession.
“That’s the great thing about this: You learn in high school whether or not you like it,” Eungard said. “You don’t end up as a junior in college saying ‘Ugh, I hate this.’ ”
Wilson said because of the support and education she received from Eungard, she not only decided to become a teacher, but honed in on which grade level she would like to teach while enrolled in the GAVC program.
“Originally, I thought I wanted to work in a special education class or work as a speech pathologist,” Wilson said.
Eungard let Wilson shadow a local speech pathologist and earn clinical hours in a special education classroom, but encouraged Wilson to try regular education classes, as well.
“That really helped me when I had to make my decision in college,” said Wilson, who graduated form Northern Illinois University.
Eungard said all students are required to teach in three different classrooms so they can decide what grade-level and environment they like best.
Borchelt specialized in junior high education while at ISU, but was grateful she had the early childhood training when she began work as a second-grade teacher at Saratoga.
“I’m still using a lot of what I learned at GAVC in this class,” Borchelt said.
Both Borchelt and Wilson have current GAVC students earning hours in their classrooms. Eungard said because they have gone through the program themselves, the two are doing an exceptionally great job working with current students.
“I get comments [from the current student] saying ‘I loved the teacher,’ or ‘I actually got to work with the kids,’ ” Eungard said.
Both teachers said they try to eliminate busy work and give the GAVC students more time working with students.
“I know what it’s like to do bulletin boards all day,” Borchelt said. “I’m not going to make them do that.”
Wilson and Borchelt are two of the first students from the early education program to take teaching jobs in the community, a fact Eungard is very proud of.
“I try to help my former students however I can,” she said. “I want them to succeed no matter where they end up.”