Child Development Grads Strengthen Early Education

Polly Bauer and Barb Laumeyer instill essential social skills at Hastings preschool.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Preschool class

Ten girls and eight boys, all four and five year olds, radiate happiness as they sing “Down on Grampa’s Farm.” During the chorus, they make like pigs that go “oink oink” and chicks that go “cheep cheep.”

The children exhibit impeccable manners as they waddle like ducks over to their activity tables for a session of drawing and coloring. Overseeing the orderly and naturally cheerful pre-K classroom are two experienced teachers, Polly Bauer and Barb Laumeyer.

Bauer and Laumeyer teach at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish Preschool in Hastings, Minn. Bauer, who is also director of the preschool, earned an A.A.S. degree in child development from Dakota County Technical College before getting her bachelor’s degree in family education and early childhood education from Concordia College in St. Paul.

Polly Bauer with students

Polly Bauer with students

“Working with young children is one of the most important jobs in our society,” said Bauer, who plans on pursuing her master’s degree in early childhood education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. “You have the chance to really make a difference in a child’s life.”

Jill Behnke, a child development instructor who started teaching at DCTC in 1985, remembered Bauer as an excellent student. “Polly took the very first A.A.S. class that we offered,” Behnke said. “I was so pleased when she completed her bachelor’s degree. She is the perfect example of how articulation between technical colleges and universities can truly benefit the student.”

Both Bauer, 49, and Laumeyer, 57, took up teaching after raising families of their own. Bauer was a stay-at-home-mom for a decade before she decided to become a professional teacher. Her three daughters began their education at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School. She is a resident of Hastings and graduated from Hastings High School.

Laumeyer, who serves as the preschool’s assistant director and as an assistant teacher in the pre-K and kindergarten program, has lived in Hastings for 31 years. She spent several years operating a successful day care in her home. All five of her children attended St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“You would think that after raising five kids I would I know everything there is to know about the growth and development of children,” said Laumeyer. “But it’s unbelievable how much there is to learn.”

“By the time a child graduates from our class, he or she will understand what having a friend is all about.”

Laumeyer decided to go back to school as a nontraditional student, earning a diploma in child development from DCTC. “Even though I was the oldest student in the class, the instructors and students made me feel very comfortable. In fact, one of my sons had Jill Behnke, the program’s head instructor, as a kindergarten teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.”

Behnke was delighted to have Laumeyer in her college classroom and remembered Laumeyer’s son, Nathan, as exceptionally lively and energetic. She was not surprised to find out that Nathan’s mother was equally imbued with energy and enthusiasm.

“Barb displayed uncommon drive and determination to complete her diploma,” Behnke said. “Having her as a student was a pleasure.”

After an interactive question-and-answer gathering, the preschool students put on their cold-weather gear for some playground time in the chilly spring temperatures. Everyone is on their best behavior, displaying remarkable concentration and poise for their age.

“Teaching the social-emotional piece is vitally important,” Bauer said. “The children will inevitably pick up academics down the road. Our job involves making sure that they learn how to behave properly with each other.”

She pointed out that friendship is one of the key life concepts students discover during the course of the school year. “At this age, children really don’t know what friendship means. At the beginning, if two children sit next to each other, they are friends. If one child gets up and moves, then they’re no longer friends. By the time a child graduates from our class, he or she will understand what having a friend is all about.”

Barb Laumeyer with student

Barb Laumeyer with student

With a smile, Laumeyer added that the mind of a child is amazingly literal. “We have to be very clear and precise when we give direction in the classroom,” she said. “For instance, if we’re listening to music and simply ask the children to tap their feet to the beat, some of the children will start patting their shoes with their hands.”

The Child Development program at DCTC prepares graduates for employment in a wide spectrum of early childhood environments. Courses conform to the educational requirements of the Minnesota Department of Human Services regarding assistant teachers and teachers working in a child care setting.

The program’s curriculum covers child development, guidance, professional relationships, nutrition, health and safety, cultural sensitivity and techniques for promoting learning in young children.

Graduates are qualified to work with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, children with special needs and parents of young children in homes, centers and community-based programs.

Depending on the level of training and experience, a student may find employment as a child care assistant teacher or teacher, director of a child care center, family child care provider, nanny, home visitor, child care resource and referral counselor, special education program assistant or child advocate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for teacher assistants is expected to grow 10 percent between 2006 and 2016. The job outlook is best for teacher assistants with two years of formal postsecondary education.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development  and report that job opportunities are good for the state’s child care workers. Skilled child care workers with experience frequently advance to supervisory positions in large day care centers or preschools. A fair number of child care workers decide to open their own day care centers.

Graduates of the Childhood Development program with an A.S. or A.A.S. degree can transfer to Southwest Minnesota State University or the University of Wisconsin-Stout to complete their Bachelor of Science teaching degree with a focus on birth to grade three.

DCTC also has an articulation agreement with Metropolitan State University for graduates who wish to complete a B.A. in psychology and a B.A.S. in early childhood studies.