From the time she was a little child, Paige Misner had a big dream. She wanted to teach. In middle school, she became slightly scared off by downbeat comments some teachers shared about their profession. But the Fort Wayne resident didn’t remain discouraged long. After a transformative high school internship helping low-income children in a first-grade classroom, she enrolled as an early childhood education major at Ball State University.

A photo of Paige Misner standing next to the entry to a preschool

Scholarship recipient Paige Misner is shown above at the Much Woolton Primary School in Liverpool. She was one of 16 Ball State elementary education undergraduates and two professors who were part of a six-week study-abroad course in England this past summer.

The senior’s dream got another boost this summer when she learned she would receive a scholarship that will pay most of her tuition this coming spring and fall. That support will be especially important when she will be student teaching full time in the fall.

“This will allow me to focus fully on my studies and making sure that I am becoming the best teacher I can become,” Misner said, “instead of working to make sure that I can pay my tuition.”

Misner’s is one of 194 Ball State scholarships from Early Learning Indiana (ELI), thanks to a grant it received from Lilly Endowment.

Anticipating a state shortage of 9,000 early childhood education teachers in the coming years, ELI “has invested in scholarship and academic programs like this around the state,” explained Beth Riedeman of ELI’s Partnerships for Early Learners.

History-making support

“This is the largest award Early Learning Indiana has provided to a college or university in our 118-year history,” said Ted Maple, president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit. The more than $1.4 million grant supports Ball State’s early education students, from those getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees to those learning to be mentors/coaches.

An infographic

The award also let Ball State create the state’s first and only Early Childhood Master Teacher Certificate, part of ELI’s efforts to improve access to and quality of early childhood programming statewide.

“The goal is that the professionals who get this certificate will be able to go back to their own early childhood programs and mentor other teachers to better improve the quality of care and education in their classrooms,” according to Professor Patricia Clark, who chairs the Department of Elementary Education.

Lee Ann Kidwell, who received a scholarship to pursue her master teacher certificate, has taught preschool for 25 years. “The scholarship is important to me since I am an older student and will most likely only work for about 10 more years,” said Kidwell. She earned her early childhood education bachelor’s degree from Ball State last year while working as a lead teacher at an Indianapolis Day Early Learning Center, which is part of Early Learning Indiana. “I do not wish to be a director but rather move into a coaching, mentoring or workforce-training type position with the same company I already work for.”

A lasting impact

Seth Pederson, also a lead teacher at an Indianapolis Day Early Learning Center, described the certificate courses he’s now taking as “challenging and interesting. They have helped me look at aspects of teaching differently than I did before taking them. I have learned a lot about coaching, anti-bias curriculum in the classroom, communication and how to come at teaching from a different angle.”

Linda Taylor, assistant professor of elementary education, oversaw development of the certificate program, for which two new courses were created: “Assessment and Observation in Early Childhood” and “Mentoring Early Childhood Professionals.” They have been permanently added to early education’s graduate curriculum.

The new certificate program and courses are examples of the lasting effect the funding will have on the early childhood education program.

“This funding has allowed us to create new courses and the new certificate, both of which will continue whether there’s scholarship funding or not,” Clark said. The last scholarship recipients are to graduate in December 2019.

“It really has enhanced our curriculum at the graduate level and will raise the visibility of our program and the opportunities we have here for early childhood professionals,” said Clark. “That will last and ultimately improve early childhood education for children. And that’s what we’re in it for, to make sure the children of Indiana have great environments growing up in which they are safe and they are learning.”

A Ball State student helps two small children put items for recycling into a box

Senior Daniel Skora is among Ball State students receiving scholarship support as they study for their bachelor’s in early childhood education.

Partners in quality education

Looking back, Clark said it’s not entirely surprising Ball State was chosen to partner with Early Learning Indiana. The university’s early childhood education program has been well known in the state for quite a long time.

“Part of that reputation is that Ball State is somewhat flexible and willing to try new things. I think we have a reputation of being willing to think outside the box … and willing to work with people to figure out how we can best meet the needs of early childhood professionals who are mostly working full time.”

It’s also true, Clark said, that many state leaders in early childhood education know firsthand the quality of Ball State’s program as former students. Among them is Maple ’05, who holds an EdD in elementary education from Ball State.

“The university’s willingness to work with us to create a curriculum and train these future early education teachers will not only help strengthen the profession,” said Maple, “but will ensure that thousands of our youngest Hoosiers will receive high-quality care and education for years to come.”

A portrait of Gabby Sandefer

Gabby Sandefer, who will finish her bachelor’s degree supported by an Early Learning Indiana scholarship, plans to teach preschool and later pursue an advanced degree to become a professor and “pass the torch to future educators,” she said.

‘Recognized and valued’

That’s good news to the half-million pre-K children in Indiana and their parents as well as to current and future teachers. “I believe education and experience should lead to those of us in the field being viewed as the professionals we are,” said Kidwell, who hopes to pursue a master’s when she has completed the certificate program.

Gabby Sandefer, who will finish her bachelor’s degree supported by an ELI scholarship, knows some people will continue to see early education teachers as ‘glorified babysitters’ — which she said “… is so discouraging as well as wrong.

“Our field is such a necessity and has been proven to lower crime rates in communities, drastically increase a child’s probability of going to college and close the achievement gap,” said Sandefer. “We work so hard to provide high-quality care for our children and ensure that they are ready to succeed not only in school but in being a lifelong learner.

“It feels amazing to be recognized and valued,” Sandefer said of the scholarships she and all her undergrad on-campus her classmates received. “We are just so, so grateful.”

Early childhood education students interested in applying for a scholarship should contact the elementary education department at 765-285-8560.