Purdue University North Central alumna Erin Foust recently earned the 2015 Hoosier Educator Award, presented by the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children.
The distinction recognizes an educator whose exemplary practices embody the practical application of Indiana AEYC standards and who shares those methods with others through workshops, publications or other means.
Foust earned her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education in 2012. She was one of the first students to enroll in the program and was a member of the Early Childhood Education program’s first graduating class.
Today Foust is lead teacher at the Westville Little School, a preschool for three and four year olds. The Little School is an innovative professional development partnership between the Westville-New Durham School Corporation, Dunebrook child abuse prevention agency and the Purdue University North Central Early Childhood Education program.
The Little School opened in 2013 and Foust was hired in 2014.
Earning the Hoosier Educator Award is an indescribable honor for Foust. “I am still wrapping my mind around it,” she said. “I am so thankful for it. This has been an incredible year. I am thrilled to be a part of the Westville Little School.”
The Little School is located adjacent to the Westville schools complex. It provides a bright, cheery setting for youngsters to learn, play and socialize. She is assisted by PNC students in the Early Childhood Education program as part of their student teaching experience. Foust is happy to help guide the PNC students as she knows how important this experience is to their professional development. While a PNC student, Foust was an Early Childhood Service Learning Mentor for her fellow students, helping them connect with their service sites, answering questions, assisting in grant review and providing support to students who needed it.
The PNC students plan some of the curriculum content areas, work with the youngsters and help ensure that everything functions smoothly.
“Erin is the maestro at the Westville Little School and brings into harmony all aspects of a developmentally appropriate learning environment,” said Dr. Mary Jane Eisenhauer, PNC associate professor of Early Childhood Education. “Under Erin’s direction, the Little School offers preschool classes, purposefully planned transitions to kindergarten, meaningful teacher preparation and family support and engagement.”
While Foust carefully outlines the concepts that the children will need to master while at the Little School, the youngsters themselves have a role in how that plays out.
She explained that the youngsters have a project-approached educational experience that keys in on the students’ interests. For example, her students said they wanted to learn more about bugs. They read about them, they did art projects, they discussed bugs and they even watched the daily development of caterpillars as they transformed into butterflies.
“We set up the learning projects, but the kids make them their own,” said Foust.
In addition to her teaching and mentoring responsibilities, Foust works with the youngsters’ families too. She meets with parents before and during the school year to build a rapport, learn more about the child’s capabilities, set learning goals and measure their progress.
For the three year olds, she will introduce the children to academics and aid their emotional and social development. For the four year olds, she will step up their age-appropriate learning and activities to prepare them for kindergarten.
“I want to provide a supportive, safe environment for the youngsters,” said Foust.
At the end of their school year, the four year olds will walk to the Westville Elementary School to visit the kindergarten. Even if a child will not be attending Westville schools, they will see what a school and classroom look like and build some excitement for the coming year. Dunebrook supplies each child with a backpack and several books.
Foust finds herself putting her PNC education to work every day on the job.
“I have my PNC text books; I refer to them often,” she said. “I use a lot of the concepts I learned in class.”
Eisenhauer and Debra Pratt, continuing lecturer of Education, are willing to give an opinion, share an idea or offer guidance when she asks.
“If I have a question or want to bounce some ideas around, they’re there for me,” said Foust. “This is been an amazing journey. I have so many ideas for next year. I’m looking forward to the fall. It’s going to be an exciting year.”