Today for “Staff Spotlight” we’re sitting down with Jean Shaughnessy-Smith, Director of the Children’s Center. Jean is retiring at the end of the month after 32 years of service to Schoolcraft College. Congratulations and thank you, Jean!
Schoolcraft College: Hello, Jean! To start out, could you please tell us a little about the Children’s Center and how it operates during “normal” times?
Jean Shaughnessy-Smith: The Children’s Center is the laboratory facility for the adults in the Early Childhood Education Special Education Program on campus. Our mission is to provide a place for students in the ECE/SPE program to do their student teaching under the direction of early childhood teachers who have the education and experience to support the emerging educators.
Just like students in the Culinary Arts program have the on-campus kitchens or Nursing students have the on-campus labs to practice in under the direction of highly skilled, highly trained chefs and medical professionals, our ECE students have the opportunity to practice their skills on campus with highly trained, highly skilled early childhood teachers.
The Children’s Center normally enrolls about 85 children from 8 weeks to 5 years, and typically about one-third of the children enrolled have a parent who works on campus. The Children’s Center is licensed by the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, and has been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children since 1999.
SC: Of course, times have been anything but normal for the past year. Could you please tell us how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Children’s Center, the steps you’ve taken, key lessons learned and how operations are going now?
Jean Shaughnessy-Smith: As with everything else in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic turned the Children’s Center’s world upside down. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the Children’s Center teachers were required to immediately transition to online content, Preschool Zoom meetings and activity plans for families working from home – a very different environment from our active, hands-on learning atmosphere. When the Children’s Center re-opened in August 2020, the teachers were able to teach in person, but under strict protocols and rigid guidelines.
During this year, the Children’s Center teachers handled the sudden changes in teaching formats and protocols during the pandemic with grace and professionalism. They quickly responded to the needs of families by providing activities, resources, guidance and support. Relationships with children and families were maintained during the closure, so when our school opened again in August 2020, everyone was still familiar with one another, making a stressful return that much easier. I continue to be in awe of the Children’s Center teachers’ flexibility, perseverance and dedication to children, families and adult learners.
This year we also learned a lot about the adaptability of our young learners. All of us at the Children’s Center were concerned about re-opening, and how the children would respond to the health and safety measures we are now required to follow. But, our concerns were unfounded: children over 2 are wearing masks all day without complaint, preschoolers have learned to wash their hands thoroughly, and infants and toddlers can see our smiles behind our masks.
Additionally, this year we learned a lot about the families at the Children’s Center. We always appreciated that families place a great deal of trust in us, but that trust has come to a head during this pandemic. Everyday routines have been altered, which prevents families from daily face-to-face time with their child’s teacher. We are grateful to our families for putting their faith in us to keep their children safe.
Lastly, we learned of the dedication of our ECE faculty and students and their ability to adjust to new learning environments. Completing hands-on field experience course work remotely is difficult, and the ECE students, with the support of their wonderful instructors, made the best of a challenging experience and completed their coursework successfully.
Currently the Children’s Center is operating at reduced enrollment to keep our group sizes small, but we are able to welcome our ECE field placement students in to the Center. We have paused operations only twice since August due to COVID exposure, which we have been told is a very strong record.
SC: The Children’s Center has an important educational component for Schoolcraft College students. Please tell us about that.
Jean Shaughnessy-Smith: The students in the Early Childhood Education Program are fortunate to have the opportunity to do their student teaching at the Children’s Center. Most community colleges in Michigan do not offer a lab school in which to complete practicum work. Students in the ECE program have experiences with infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
While in the Center, the student is working directly with children in a classroom under the supervision of one Schoolcraft’s fantastic early childhood professionals. The teacher is able to offer direct and immediate feedback to students while events are unfolding. Additionally, the Early Childhood Teachers maintain close communication with the ECE faculty and coach to further support students in their educational journey.
SC: People may not realize that Schoolcraft College established the Child Care Center in 1971 to answer an important community need. What have been the key changes or evolution over the years?
Jean Shaughnessy-Smith: Originally, the program started as child care for students while they were in class. Over time, state licensing regulations became more rigorous and the importance of high-quality early childhood education became understood nationwide. Consequently, the “Child Care and Development” program was added to the growing list of degree programs at Schoolcraft, and the Children’s Center evolved into the teaching program we have today.
There have been many changes to the program through the years. Most recently, updating course requirements so students work with each age group during their course of study. This allows emerging educators to leave the ECE program with a rich understanding of the developmental levels of children. Additionally, the educational requirements of the teaching staff at the Children’s Center have increased over time, creating a knowledgeable and professional team of educators for the adults in the ECE program and the College’s youngest learners, too.
SC: You’ve served Schoolcraft College since 1989. Please tell us a little about your background and your career.
Jean Shaughnessy-Smith: I was hired as the assistant supervisor at the Infant and Toddler Center when it opened at the Radcliff Campus in January, 1989. Sadly, the Director passed away six months after we opened, and I was immediately required to step in to run the show. The Infant and Toddler program and the Preschool program (formerly located in the houses along Haggerty Road) merged into the current facility in fall of 1995, and the rest is history.
SC: Thank you, Jean. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jean Shaughnessy-Smith: In 2012 I was asked how many ECE students had come through the Children’s Center under my tenure. At the time, I estimated the number to be about 1,400. I have never calculated the number of children and families I have worked with in my career, but I am humbled to imagine what that number would be.