When Boston no longer had Mass appeal for Rebecca Schnakenberg, she turned to Ypsilanti to start a new life with some Michigan allure.
Schnakenberg and her son, Ben (2), moved in with family members so she could enroll in the Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education program at Eastern Michigan University. She lived across the street from campus, worked as a graduate assistant to pay tuition and graduated from the hybrid program in May 2019.
''I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to further my education, but the opportunity never presented itself,'' she said. ''This was that great big restart button I had been waiting to hit.''
After Schnakenberg completed a bachelor's degree in elementary education at Emmanuel College in 2008, she could not find a job at an elementary school because of a hiring freeze in the Boston area.
''Test scores were really poor, and they were trying to get to the root of the problem and not bringing in anybody new,'' she said. ''I got a job at a private preschool. I loved what I was doing, but not where I worked. I also had a baby, left a relationship and needed somewhere to go.''
Having family Schnakenberg could live with while earning a graduate degree was a blessing. She hopes to return to the classroom for the 2019-20 school year.
''I have always known teaching is what I am supposed to do,'' Schnakenberg said. ''I am good at what I do, and I wanted to be better at what I do. Eastern is known for education for good reason. It is an amazing program.''
Schnakenberg, who was born and raised in New Hampshire, was destined for a career in teaching. One of her grandmothers and both of her parents were educators, so she has been surrounded by teachers her whole life.
''I grew up reading to my stuffed animals and dolls and taking attendance with my mom's old lists,'' she said. ''I have always liked being in charge.''
When Schnakenberg stands up in front of her own classroom again, she knows she will be more prepared than ever with the information she learned in the Early Childhood Education program.
''With my undergraduate degree and the teaching licensure, the focus was so much on testing and facts,'' she said. ''The focus was the curriculum and this is what you are teaching them and how you teach it.
''But the master's degree was so focused on child development and how the student learns, which needs to be the focus of any educator's education. You know the information you are supposed to be imparting, but if you are not using an effective method, you are wasting everyone's time.''
ECE 600: Trends, Issues and Advocacy in Early Childhood Education, taught by Dr. Brigid Beaubien, was Schnakenberg's favorite course in the curriculum.
''Dr. Beaubien is who I want to be when I grow up,'' she said. ''She really sparks that fire. She shows you why your role is important in this child's life. We spend more time in a week with these children than their parents. We really are their first responders in many cases.''
Schnakenberg also believes a fresh start with a leap of faith will serve as a positive example for her son when he is older.
''As a single parent, part of the reason I did all of this was for him,'' she said. ''It was for me, first and foremost, and I don't feel embarrassed saying that, but it showed him we are doing this, and this is how you do it.
''I want him to know that it's okay to feel scared and to make big moves. You need to do it for you and be the best you can be in what you are choosing to do.''
The Eagle Has Landed
Especially given the bumps in the road Schnakenberg has weathered, she relished the opportunity to participate in the commencement ceremony at EMU.
''I had been planning on walking across that stage since I got here,'' she said. ''I planned my own party a month in advance. I wanted to have a disco ball going when I walked across the stage.''
While Schnakenberg has her sights set on returning to the classroom, she would eventually like to be the director of a laboratory school, similar to what she did as a graduate assistant, or facilitate professional development for early childhood educators and also early elementary educators on best literacy practices and how to build those skills with kids.
''I love building relationships with students and parents,'' she said. ''Ultimately, I would love to end up in some sort of leadership position, but right now my heart is in teaching and the day to day of the classroom.
''There is something really special about helping a student lay their own foundation for everything that they are ever going to want to achieve when they grow up. I feel lucky to be a part of that.''
Now more than ever, Schnakenberg realizes the importance of having quality teachers for future generations.
''America needs teachers who are level-headed, intelligent, patient, compassionate, empathetic people,'' she said. ''The program taught me to hold onto those core skills and remind myself why they are important. We need people who are prepared to get out there and teach those kiddos. This generation has got to do better.''
Learn more about the EMU online MA in Early Childhood Education program.
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