CALS alumni find
unique ways to reach children
by Leslie Einhaus
Talena Veien-Dixon / Linda Myers / Eric Engel / Kim Buron / Amie Pritchett
They conduct their work alongside brightly colored finger paints, towers of wooden blocks, and boxes of mismatched crayons. Of course, it's not all fun and games, but for many University of Idaho graduates-turned-professionals, helping children and families is less about "going to work" and more about "having fun."
CALS alumni featured in these pages have a common passion, a common goal: to provide the best possible environment for learning and growth for all children. Talent is involved, too. The talent aspect can be directly linked to what these alumni learned in the School of Family and Consumer Sciences under the tutelage of Nancy Wanamaker, Janice Fletcher, and Suzanne Planck. From 1997 to 2005, 197 Family and Consumer Sciences students graduated with an emphasis in child and family relations.
Alumni all say they came away from the UI well prepared for their current careers as educational coordinators, child life specialists, behavior consultants, speech and language pathologists, and pre-K teachers. Alumni also own childcare centers, work for military childcare programs, and help children and adults with disabilities. They live across the U.S. and around the world, including Italy and Nepal. For questions about this program contact email@example.com.
"Ta-Linda" team impacts Seattle area teachers, children
Collectively, they are known as "Ta-Linda." Separately, Talena Veien-Dixon '90 and Linda Myers '90 work their magic with children on a daily basis as educational coordinators at the Puget Sound Educational Service District's Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, which is similar to Head Start.
Young student passes near
Sites they visit are located in public schools, childcare centers, and churches across Pierce and King counties in western Washington. They each work with 18 different classrooms consulting with teachers. They attend staff and agency meetings and provide training to staff members and parents. "No two days are alike in our jobs," Myers said.
"My favorite part of the job," she added, "is the many opportunities I have to play with children while at the same time modeling to staff how to help children manage themselves and be successful at learning new skills."
One lesson that Talena and Linda observe daily is that children cannot learn or be successful in school until they are socially and emotionally grounded. When they train teaching staff and childcare providers, Talena and Linda have the participants put on a heavy backpack to represent the emotional weight a child might be carrying. By taking part in such an exercise, participants become "more compassionate and empathetic to the children they serve," Dixon noted.
Linda Myers answers one parent's
question following an Emotional
seminar near Seattle.
Both Dixon and Myers graduated from the UI with master's degrees in child development and family relations. The emphasis is unique and well-envisioned. "You can't separate a child from family. You can't have one without the other," Dixon said.
It also seems that the UI can't have Myers without Dixon or vice-versa. The duo even worked at the UI Child Development Laboratory together when Myers was director. As a student at the University of Idaho, Myers was able to put ideas into practice early on.
Talena Veien-Dixon helps student
matching sea-creature square.
Photos © Stefani Felix
"We have come away with a group of principles that have really served us well in the professional world," she noted. The guiding principle--respect individuals--may seem simple enough, but it's an important action to keep in mind on a daily basis. Another principle--start where the learner is--comes from FCS faculty Janice Fletcher. "She modeled it consistently throughout my education," said Myers.
"Without this principle, I would provide consultation anywhere "I' thought was necessary and the individuals learning would be lost.
"We were certainly prepared," Myers added. "I am so thankful for my education and the job I got as a result."
Eric Engel's frontier Alaska lessons
Eric Engel '01 has learned more than he ever wanted to about cozy, four-seat Cessna planes. As a child development coordinator for Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc., he visits families in small, rural towns.
"It can be difficult to make sure children have the proper dental care and immunizations at the correct times since they do not have dentists or doctors in many of the smaller communities," explained Engel. "Some villages have fax, phone, and Internet while others have no running water or plumbing."
About to fly high, Eric Engel racks up fleer miles with destinations
400 to 500
miles from his Anchorage base. Photo by Michael Dinneen.
"The distance between the two farthest centers that we work with is 1,453 miles. The distances I have to travel to get to the six communities I work with are all about 400 to 500 miles away from Anchorage where I'm based," he said.
On one particular plane trip, when temperatures plummeted to 40-below, Engel recalls the pilot giving him a large blanket, not for covering up, but to cover a crack in the plane. Shivering, he covered the hole in the door to keep the magnificent winds from making conditions worse.
In the classroom, he also shows his innovative side. He recently connected with one pre-K student who was erupting into violent outbursts. With his solid education from the UI, Engel was able to transform these moments into positives. "I came up with the idea of directing the student to the bathroom instead of the hall," he explained. "When I got him there, I took a pad of paper and began drawing pictures for him and slid the scraps under the door." Before long, the violent outbursts lessened in quantity and intensity.
"I also learned that the boy had trouble expressing his feelings," noted Engel, who illustrated different moods--happy, sad, mad--on a set of plastic spoons. "He carried those spoons everywhere." In six weeks, Engel felt like he really made a difference in the young boy's life. "I see my current job as a way to give back," he said.
Family ties serve Kim in Alaska
Kim (Killian) Buron '05 grew up in Healy, Alaska, a town neighboring Denali National Park. Growing up, Buron was surrounded by a large extended family. "I was always interested in the dynamics taking place," she said.
This interest in family dynamics has stayed with her through the years. Like Eric, she also works at Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. Her current job as teacher director includes tasks with a common tie--working with families and children.
Kim Burton and young student pour over work
project, part of
her rural Alaska task.
Photo by Michael Dineen.
She provides parent education, organizes teacher in-services, and eases workloads for fellow teachers. By implementing a Strengthening Families Initiatives grant, she helps parents develop a better understanding of child development and the unique relationship between parent and child.
This is often achieved through evening educational programs for parents. Participants may learn about alternatives to television viewing such as child-friendly recipes, art projects, and outdoor adventures. "Hopefully, this fun time will bring them closer to one another," she said.
This Idaho alumna has seen a child's first steps and a language-delayed child speak using the cues she gave him. "I love it," she said.
The support Buron offers now as a professional is mirrored by the support she received at the University of Idaho. "I am so happy with my education. It was incredible."
With such a knowledge base, when she landed the job in August 2005, she was ready to go with few hesitations. "I hit the ground running," she noted. "I knew what I was doing."
Helping children face ills at a camp, Seattle hospital
Amie As a high school senior, Amie Pritchett '04 of Issaquah, Washington, visited the University of Idaho's Moscow campus for Vandal Friday. "I fell in love instantly," she said.
Helping children feels at ease when facing
medical ordeals is role of UI alum
Amie Pritchett at Seattle Children's
Hospital. Toys and puppets help.
Photo © Stephanie Felix
When her friends applied to various Washington colleges and universities, Pritchett set her sights on the University of Idaho. As part of her studies, Pritchett traveled to New Zealand to work at the Kidz First Hospital in Auckland. At first, friends told her to finish her internship close by--in Boise, Seattle, or Spokane. But Pritchett yearned for something exotic. "It's a big world out there," she exclaimed.
The world taught her a big lesson early on, too. At the tender age of 10, she was diagnosed with leukemia. "I spent a lot of time in the hospital," recalled Pritchett.
Before her current job at Seattle's Children's Hospital, Pritchett worked at the very same place she visited as a child. "I was the patient care coordinator in the hematology/oncology clinic," she explained.
While some people might stray from such a childhood experience, Pritchett put it all in perspective.
Now, as a child life specialist in the hospital's emergency department, Pritchett takes lessons from the little ones. "They are always in the moment," she said. "When adults might freak out about an ambulance ride, kids think it's cool."
As part of her duties, Pritchett ensures that children feel as comfortable as possible. She may offer the pint-sized patients toys for a distraction or explain a procedure in lingo a kid can understand.
Organizing Camp Goodtimes for kids with cancer
Her dedication to kids doesn't end there either. For the past seven summers, Pritchett has helped organize a camp for young cancer patients. When Camp Goodtimes commences, everyone has an alterego. For Pritchett, it's "Piglet." Every once in awhile at work, she will hear a tiny voice call out: "Piglet, it's you."
The care and goodwill this cancer survivor extends to her camp bunkmates is similar to the kindness and attention she received as a UI student. "There's a genuine care for students at the University of Idaho," she said. "When I hear young people say they want a fun, new, and interesting experience, I tell them to go to Idaho."