MEA member Danya Stump knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher, but she didn’t figure out until college that she wanted to be a preschool special education teacher.
The impetus for her direction was a little boy she was assigned to work with at the early child development center where she worked as a freshman at Eastern Michigan University. He had developmental delays, behavioral issues, and trouble playing with other children.
“Today with my experience, I can see exactly what was going on there,” she said. “But at the time I didn’t know, he was new and hadn’t been evaluated, and they were struggling with what to do with him. They thought by giving him a person to be with him all the time, it might help.”
It did, and a career was born. “What drew me into this little boy was seeing that after he began to trust somebody, there was this whole other person in there that people didn’t know existed. To be a part of helping to draw that out really, really touched me.”
Now the 26-year veteran says the pandemic has changed some parts of her job at Farmington Public Schools. For one, the already heavy paperwork load has increased.
“We’re doing more documents for the state,” she said. “We’re doing what we call contingency learning plans for each child, just showing what we’re providing for them and what the parent concerns are, and that document is fluid so it can be changed if need be.”
What hasn’t changed is the movement that gets incorporated into the day; the hands-on activities done with items from around the house or from a material bag delivered to students monthly; and center rotations accomplished with breakout rooms, a paraeducator, and aides.
“My students are making progress. We’re seeing lots of changes in them, which is great. Their faces when they first hop on and say ‘good morning’ are all smiles. They’re happy to be there.”
In Farmington, high COVID-19 case numbers kept the district virtual—except when the early childhood center briefly opened in the fall— through January when an in-person hybrid program began with a virtual option. Stump continues to teach a virtual class of 23 preschoolers.
Last summer, she joined a statewide group of educators— speech, physical, and occupational therapists plus a social worker, in addition to teachers—who built an online collection of at-home preschool learning resources in a partnership between Build Up Michigan, PBS, and Gud Marketing.
Stump called it one of the best experiences of her time as an educator—being part of a team to help families amid the worst pandemic in a century. “Coming together with amazing people from all over the state to work on that common goal was uplifting,” she said. Those materials can be found at buildupmi.org/thrive.
Being on screen four days a week, Stump has had to let go of feeling self-conscious. “I would have never imagined I’d be on camera dancing in front of parents every day, but here we are,” she said laughing.
She misses being in the classroom with students but enjoys prompting engagement and interaction online. Despite the challenges, she finds the same joy she discovered as a college freshman working with the little boy who changed the course of her life.
“I still just love kids like him,” she said. “I love being able to problem-solve what underlying supports are needed to help them get to the potential that’s in there waiting to come out.”
Read more stories from the series, “What it’s Like: COVID Vignettes”: