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Excellence in the Early Childhood Classroom

October 24, 2011

Joyce Dye, who earned as associate degree in Early Childhood Education at BMCC—then a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education and Master in Education, both at City College, CUNY—was just awarded the Excellence in Teaching Recognition Award, by the NYC Early Childhood Professional Development Institute.

Dye is also active as a Sesame Street Teachers Council member, and will be traveling to China this winter, sharing curricula and classroom experience as a Citizen Ambassador with the organization, People to People.

“I love to collaborate with other teachers about what happens in the classroom and why it is important,” she says. “I teach 28 three-year-olds a day. Fourteen in the morning, and 14 in the afternoon.”

Teaching children, mentoring adults

Joyce Dye not only teaches, but as Head Teacher at the Bloomingdale Family Program, Inc., a Head Start program serving children of lower-income families in Upper Manhattan, she mentors other teachers, and helps them prepare for the teacher certification exams.

“I feel like I’m always on call,” she says, laughing. She also tutors education students at BMCC, two days a week for four hours at a time.

“It becomes more than tutoring,” she says. “I’m helping them figure out their portfolios, how to state their philosophy, their beliefs and goals, how to present their experiences as student teachers, as educators.  It’s what they show to prospective employers and their professors here at BMCC.”

Roots at BMCC

“The program here was my foundation,” says Dye. “Anna Daniels, a secretary, would allow me to study at a desk in the office of the Early Childhood Department, and that helped me to meet many students like myself. Also, working with professors like Rachel Theilheimer and Marilyn Barnwell was an inspiration. BMCC is where I learned children are important, and how they can learn through play. Sitting down to write is good, but learning through interaction with their environment is also so important.”

She gives the example of walking through the neighborhood recently, with her Head Start students.

“We saw men working in construction, and loading beams into a pile. The children took the concept of ‘more’ and measuring concepts like ‘length’ back to what they were doing later that day, making ramps.”

Language learning is an important facet of play, she explains. “We try to extend the children’s vocabulary. We say things like, ‘I notice you have a pattern’, and later you hear them replicate new words and concepts.”

Meeting challenges

Having focused on nursery to 6th grade literacy in her graduate studies, Dye is well prepared to work with children learning not only new concepts, but a new language—English.

“At Head Start, we work with the parents, too,” she says. “We have ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] classes, and we have a lot of meetings to let parents know what’s going on.”

It’s challenging work, but worth it, she says, “because your payment is through watching children progress. I always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was a little girl. I was very quiet, but a teacher reached out to me.”

In fact, her master’s thesis is on “the quiet children in the classroom—how we can support teachers that have quiet children, and the children themselves,” she says. “But first you have to ask, ‘Are they really quiet?’ Even though I was a quiet child, I was observant. I didn’t miss a beat.”

A valuable field

As Dye explains it, today’s economic environment is threatening family services, and programs like hers.

“Funding is tight,” she says. “Right now, we’re in the middle of pulling grants together, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. If the proposed cuts go through, we’ll go from 28 to ten kids, and that’s not fair. How do you turn them away?”

Even Nobel-Prize winning economist James Heckman argues that it makes good fiscal sense to support pre-school learning; that the “rate of return” for educating young children, in terms of their future earnings and other factors, far outweighs the cost—and yet, many families are losing access to Pre-K and other such options.

Does Dye still recommend early childhood education as a major? “Absolutely,” she says. “You’ll be rich in what you learn about and contribute to children’s lives. It’s a valuable field, even if it’s not acknowledged as such.”

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Alum Joyce Dye wins prestigious Excellence in Teaching Recognition Award
  • She teaches 28 three-year-olds a day, in a Head Start program
  • Though funding issues threaten the field, she strongly recommends it

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