For the first time, the Detroit Lakes campus of Minnesota State Community & Technical College is offering a two-year associate of science degree in early childhood and paraprofessional education this fall.
Though it was offered for many years at the M-State campus in Wadena, the program was transferred to Detroit Lakes this year because, as instructor Leann Scalia put it, "the demand seemed to be here."
And judging by early attendance this fall, that assessment appears to be justified.
"The week before school started, there were 18 enrolled," Scalia said. But on opening day, there were 24 students in the class.
"It was really exciting to see a full classroom," she added.
Scalia had taught the same course at the Wadena campus, and for the time being, plans to continue living in that community and commute back and forth.
Wadena is closer to where her four children live, Scalia explained, noting that they are all grown and living in their own homes now.
The early childhood and paraprofessional degree is a 64-credit program, and requires a full two years to complete. Next year, the school hopes to add a one-year certification program in child development as well, Scalia said.
Coursework for the A.S. degree includes child development (birth to age 8); behavior guidance; children with special needs; development of environments and curriculum for infant/toddler, preschool and primary school age children; the role of the paraprofessional; and sign language as well as on-site experiences in a variety of programs.
Child development and general education courses make up the bulk of the program.
Scalia, a native of Carroll, Iowa, who grew up in Sleepy Eye, Minn., has a plethora of educational credits to back up her practical experience in the field.
"I really like going to school," she admitted. "I love learning new things, and I love passing them on to my students."
Scalia has a masters degree in education (with an emphasis in early childhood) from Concordia University in St. Paul. She is currently working toward her doctorate in curriculum and instruction, with a major in literacy and minor in early childhood, at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.
"I've finished all my coursework (for the doctorate)," she said. "I'm now working on the written exams."
Then come the oral exams and finally, researching and writing her doctoral thesis, which Scalia said she is actually looking forward to doing.
"I also have a parent educator license," Scalia said, "and I'm certified as a Montessori teacher for grades 3-6."
Montessori, Scalia explained, is an alternative method of learning that is more individualized than traditional classroom work.
"It's nice to have a foot in both worlds (i.e., Montessori and traditional education)," she said.
She hopes to be a resource for local early childhood educators and paraprofessionals as well.
"I've been told there's a great early childhood community here," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with them."
Scalia's passion for her work is there for all to see in the poster that she has displayed in every classroom she has worked in for the past 20 years.
It says, "Priorities: "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove... but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."
"That poster has been hanging over my desk for 20 years -- it follows me (from school to school), because that's what it's all about; my life making a positive difference in the lives of children."
Though she spends most of her time teaching other teachers, in a college setting, Scalia said she discovered early on that she could have a greater impact by "teaching the future teachers of children" than by teaching a single early childhood class.
"And a lot of my students are going to be parents -- so I get to influence that part of their lives too," she added.
For more information about the early childhood and paraprofessional education program at M-State in DL, call 218-846-3700, or visit www.minnesota.edu.