November 2018 Student Spotlight – Celeste Smith

My mom, Beverly Myers, who also worked at my elementary school for 47 years, was the main reason I went into education.  She loved teaching children, but never was able to afford to go to school for her degree especially while raising 4 children of her own.   She instilled a love of learning and children in me, and with her encouragement and support, I graduated from UCF with a BA in Elementary Education in 1985 and taught kindergarten for 5 years, while earning an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education.  During this time, I could see the advantage of preschool, as the children who entered Kindergarten with prior school experience easily adjusted to the new school environment and were advanced academically.

I took 5 years off of teaching to have my daughter, Breylin, now age 28, and my sons, Chey, now 27, and Tanon, 25. I volunteered as a substitute teacher at my children’s preschool.  I loved teaching the youngest children and watching their faces light up when they felt success.  At this time, my daughter was preparing to go to kindergarten, and the school did not have a preschool available.  I approached the principal, Sr. Elizabeth, about opening a preschool, and she was immediately on board with the idea.  We had to share our building with the aftercare program, which meant setting up tables, chairs, and cubbies/centers every day and breaking them back down at the end of the day. Within 5 months of the approval, in 1995, the SJV preschool was established, offering education to 120 three and four-year olds.  I developed the curriculum for the preschool classes using a combination of various curriculum, creating a hands-on learning environment.  I was also given the opportunity to work with Sadlier to develop their first preschool curriculum, Mother Goose.  After five years, we moved from the remote building on campus into a new center in 2000.  The school just initiated a Dual Language program and the VPK program to better meet the needs of the community. I was given the opportunity to be the VPK director, hence how I was introduced to the ChildCare Education Institute.

This is the first time I was able to participate in courses with the CCEI.  The only other on-line classes that I was aware of were the ones I took through the Department of Children and Families’ ChildCare Training, where I received my Staff Credential for the VPK program. I was fortunate enough to be guided in the direction of CCEI, as I was having difficulty receiving the correct information of the direction I needed to take to be able to qualify for the Director’s Credential.  I do plan on continuing my education through CCEI coursework.  With my work and family obligations , the online courses and support of education coaches, is an easy, low stress method of keeping my educational arsenal updated with the most recent findings.

I highly recommend the courses offered by CCEI to my fellow teachers and staff, hoping to further the education of my coworkers.  CCEI was very helpful and a wealth of information, in comparison to other educational avenues that I have used.  I also wish to thank my educational coach, Charlisa Dixon, for her constant support and encouragement in keeping up my schedule to complete my coursework.  Prior to being introduced to CCEI, I spent over two weeks seeking guidance on the right course to take to earn my Director’s credential.  I had a short time to accomplish this goal, and CCEI allowed me to work quickly, and successfully, to reach it.  Thank you, CCEI, for pointing me in the right direction.

I would have to say my favorite time of day to spend with my children is recess.  I love interacting with the children, and watching the dynamics of the different personalities.  Watching the future doctors, firefighters, police officers, and mommies and daddies role playing on our interactive playground, brings a smile to my face. My assistants, Claudia and Wendy, and I enjoy just sitting back and watching their imaginations run wild!  I would say the students’ favorite time of day is center time.  They love the different challenging centers that we set up every day.  They love working in small groups, socializing and playing the learning games.  Their favorite centers usually include the STEM centers.

The joy I get from working with the children motivates me.   I love the “light bulb” effect!  I love watching the children’s faces when they learn something new or make a new discovery!  It is the best feeling ever!  Those smiles can’t be beat, and the hugs I get when they succeed, are the greatest reward I could ever receive.  I enjoy watching and helping children learn and grow.  I am sad to see them graduate, but excited for their future as they move on to Kindergarten.  I am fortunate enough to be able to watch many of my students grow up, as our school goes up through the 8th grade.  It is such a wonderful feeling when my “all grown-up” preschoolers come back on graduation day to visit and thank me for the memories.

I reside in Altamonte Springs, Florida, but work in Orlando, Florida, a few miles away.  In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family.  Summers and holiday gatherings are among my most treasured memories.  Our favorite vacations are spent at the beach and fishing and lobstering in the Keys.  I also enjoy taking care of orphaned animals.  My children and I have rescued and raised many squirrels, raccoons, birds, and opossums.  They have all been released back into the wild- usually our back yard.

My immediate future career plans include directing a Dual Language Program/VPK program in the fall.  Upon retirement, I hope to own my own preschool, where children are challenged to reach their optimum potential through hands-on learning in an interactive environment, indoor and out.  I love the idea of children learning to farm, take care of animals, and to learn the value of working together to reach milestones.  I have always been “in tune” with nature and feel it is important in the development of the whole child.  One thing I have learned in the past 33 years of working in the field of education, is that there is always room to improve your teaching methods and curriculum.  New research, educational opportunities, and resources available to teachers now, enables a teacher to reach for the stars and provide the best possible learning experience a child can have, and isn’t that the goal of every teacher?!