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Meet HighScope Hero

Meet HighScope Hero


“Answering the call to be an ECE Teacher”

Wabash Area Development, Inc.
McLeansboro, Illinois

HighScope Hero Paula York currently works as a lead teacher at Wabash Area Development, Inc. (WADI), a Head Start center serving families in Hamilton and White counties in Southern Illinois. Of her 13-year tenure at WADI, she says, “What keeps me here is the respect among my fellow teachers and my colleagues. I have a strong relationship with my coworkers — one that fosters idea sharing and support.”

Working with children and supporting their learning and growth has been Paula’s lifelong calling. “My parents said that when I was young, I would pretend to be a teacher to imaginary children,” she explains. As a teenager, she dedicated herself to teaching at her local church’s Sunday school in McLeansboro, IL. It was only natural, then, that when Paula entered Rend Lake College in Ina, IL, she made early childhood education her focus of study. She earned an associate degree in applied science in early childhood education in 2006.

As a lead teacher at WADI, Paula uses the HighScope approach to individualize her instruction to meet students where they are, while scaffolding their learning to the next level of development. She has created a classroom environment where students are free to use their imaginations and explore their interests. “My goal is to make strong connections with my students and offer learning experiences that are based on a student’s interests,” says Paula. “For example, if a kid likes dinosaurs, then I bring in items related to dinosaurs.”

Students are never limited to one space in the classroom, and they are encouraged to think outside the box, explore, and go wherever their imaginations take them. “Kids can move from their picnic in the kitchen area to building chairs to sit on in the block area,” Paula explains. “When they tap into their imaginations, what emerges is amazing.”

Paula often brings her own personality and interests, such as humor and singing, into the classroom. She says that she will often randomly start singing during class, inviting the kids join in for an impromptu sing-along. She is also an avid camper. “Last year someone randomly parked an RV in our parking lot. The children wanted to know more about it. It sparked an interest. So, the following day I brought in some of my camping gear for a hands-on learning experience.”

As families are sheltering during the COVID-19 crisis, Paula strives to support parents and stay connected to her students by providing storyboarded lesson plans and weekly activities. She also sends recordings of herself reading books. “I want the kids to see me so we can maintain that important connection,” she says.

Paula was nominated to be a HighScope Hero by WADI education coordinator and classroom coach Paula Maloney, who said, “Paula is a model teacher who makes her classroom the best it can be using HighScope measures in the PQA, and high standards in her teaching practices. She teaches life skills and instills a love of learning in her students.”

WADI maintains three Head Start centers in seven Illinois counties, where Paula is often called upon to onboard new teachers by training them in the HighScope Curriculum. She is dedicated to the field of early childhood education and says that she never expected recognition for doing what she loves, adding “I am truly honored.”