Merilee DeJohn, a second grade teacher at Highcrest Elementary School in Wethersfield, Connecticut, was inspired to pursue her passion for education through volunteerism. “I began volunteering in my children’s school when they were young. This segued into a job as a paraprofessional.” As the world of education began evolving, the expectation was that paraprofessionals needed either to earn an associate degree or to pass an exam to keep their position. This caused Merilee to realize just how much she loved her job. Being surrounded by magnificent educators who impacted her thinking, and through the encouragement of her husband and family, she went for it. “I was scared as hell – I was over 40 years old!”
In 2007, Merilee completed her associate degree in Early Childhood Education at Goodwin College, then went on to complete her bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education at the University of Hartford and master’s in Special Education at the University of St. Joseph, Pennsylvania. Now at Highcrest Elementary, Merilee is giving back again by hosting student interns in her classroom. “It is so important to impart what you have learned along the way to new teachers who are coming into the profession. I worked this past year updating our math and social studies curriculum. In addition, I serve on the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies) Committee, where we focus on providing whole-school positive strategies to promote expected behaviors.”
As any educator will tell you, the job is rewarding, but comes with challenges. In Merilee’s experience, inequity is the most challenging part of education and comes in many forms. Monetarily, there are currently not enough technology resources to provide students with all the educational world has to offer. Additionally, resources at home for students are highly dependent upon household income. “Our school has a large percentage of ELL students and thus, parents may or may not have English language skills. Some parents cannot help students with homework or provide them with the support they need to build social skills, create friendships outside of school, or develop necessary academic vocabulary for standardized testing.”
Often through the challenges come the highlights that last a lifetime. As Merilee reflected on what her favorite part of being an educator is, her thoughts turned to her students. “It may seem cliché to say, but without a doubt it is when you see the impact of your teaching on a student’s learning. The moment a child reads a sentence fluently and his eyes light up, or when a student perseveres through a math concept, finally arriving at the answer and shouting, ‘I got it!’ Or the student who returns six years later and tells you, ‘I still use that math strategy you taught me in second grade.’ There truly is nothing better.”
Merliee beams with pride to have been a part of the Goodwin College history as well as her continued service on the Board of Trustees and the Magnet School Board. “As part of the first graduating class from the Early Childhood Education program, I am amazed to see how Goodwin College has grown from its initial accreditation to a bachelor’s degree in Child Study. How the College has flourished from my original campus on Burnside Avenue to our beautiful, state-of-the-art campus we love today, complete with our magnet schools and manufacturing center. None of this could be possible without the vision, wisdom, and dedication of our president, Mark Scheinberg. I am grateful to President Scheinberg, the administration, my fellow trustees, the staff, and students, who continue to make Goodwin College a place that truly makes a difference!”
By Lee Housley ‘15
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.