Before the national media arrived and storm clouds gathered, I worked the most unconventional of work-study jobs.
From September 2010 to May 2011, I was on the Penn State’s College of Human Development and Family Studies (H.D.F.S) work-study payroll as a preschool teacher’s aide. The department moved to the Gary Schultz Childcare Center across campus during summer 2011. During the school year, I got to see a side of Penn State that most don’t get a chance to see.
When I received my training and reporting assignment, I was nervous and excited. I had spent time with my two nephews when they were children, but that was several years ago. I knew I enjoyed playing with them, then wondered how I would react. Teachers said boys signing up for the job were few and the children would “appreciate having one to play with.”
Similar to adults, children take a few days to warm up to you. When I started, most were hesitant to make eye contact with me or share their toys. But, after a few weeks of attending their class, they started to get comfortable with me and started asking me questions. One child, five-year old “Rus” often sought me out to play and wanted to read the same book, over and over.
One of the interesting things I learned was the way the teachers disciplined the children while showing them respect. I remember a few times, kids got upset when they didn’t get their own way. Let the child get the problem out of their system first and then resolve it when tempers cooled.
It was obvious the boys were happy to have another (older) boy to race cars and play catch.
My favorite memory of the job was an October trip to a State College area pumpkin patch. The kids excited to see cows and a few cats up close. Most of all, the kids received free rein to pick any pumpkin they wanted. My friend “Rus” pulled me in every direction he wanted to go, as well.
My experience working with children was incredibly humbling. I stepped out of my comfort zone to made a difference. I also got to see the special bond children share with their parents. A bond demonstrated by their unique strengths, abilities and aspirations.
Thanks to my “job” I volunteered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America. It seems ironic that a university that placed so much integrity, professionalism and high standards in the protection of children, would become criticized for allegedly doing the opposite only a few months later.