Some show up on day one ready and willing to jump off the high dive into the deep end. They learn by doing. Others prefer to walk in from the shallow end, keeping their head above water until they’ve developed some confidence in themselves (and their teachers). After finding their comfort zone, they’ll dive in headfirst to join the rest of the class. These children are more methodical in their approach compared to the ones who quite literally start in over their heads.
Peggy Rogers uses this swimming analogy to explain why community and technical college is the perfect place to start your college career. As the head of the early childhood education department, Rogers sees it as a perfect example of how different learning styles can all lead to academic success. It’s a philosophy of student achievement that permeates Northland Community and Technical College.
“Some people are ready to start in with their four-year degree right away at the bigger campuses… some aren’t quite sure yet,” Rogers said as she leaned back in her chair behind a desk covered with well-loved children’s books and curious toys that beg to be played with. “Northland is a great place to start,” she continues, “and a really good deal for your money.”
See Into the Future with Early Childhood Education
The Early Childhood & Paraprofessional program at Northland prepares graduates for careers as elementary and preschool teachers, Head Start teachers and paraprofessionals, as well as teaching and leadership roles at child care centers. Now is a great time to get into the teaching field, as regional school districts and child care centers continue to struggle to find qualified applicants. Job security aside, Rogers believes there’s another, more exciting upside to teaching… you get a sneak-peek into the future.
“We have the opportunity to see into the future when we work with children,” Rogers explained. “We get an opportunity to see what they’re looking at and watch them explore their natural creativity. You also get to see what’s important, because kids see what’s important. If they see someone crying, they give them a hug. If they see someone with a disability, they go up and ask what happened. There’s nothing greater than watching a child learn.”
There’s also a lot more to teaching than finger paints and building blocks. The Early Childhood & Paraprofessional program at Northland includes classes and hands-on training that give students a broad base in child guidance and child development. Over the course of the two-year A.S. program, graduates are taught how to provide a healthy, safe and developmentally appropriate learning environment that supports both the child and his or her family.
While this is not a licensure program—students do have the opportunity to go on to get their teaching license at a four-year institution—Rogers is quick to point out the partnerships Northland has developed with area universities that make it easy for graduates to make the transfer. “We’ve worked it all out so students don’t have to,” Rogers stated confidently.
She also explained an important benefit of earning your associate’s degree first. If you start at a four-year university and life suddenly gets in the way—children, medical bills, relocation, etc.—you’ve got credits, but no degree. And those credits may or may not be transferable. “At the end of two years at Northland, you’ll have a degree… and no one can take that away from you,” Rogers said with a knowing smile.
That smile is about as close to bragging as Rogers will get, despite all the accolades and recognition that should give her reason to gloat. She’s one of Northland’s most celebrated and recognized instructors and recently won a national leadership award from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. NISOD, is an organization committed to promoting and celebrating excellence at community and technical colleges.
“Peggy’s soft spoken and kind nature belie her drive to excel and provide students with great learning environments,” said Brian Huschle, East Grand Forks Campus Dean. “Whether it’s working on the Greater Grand Forks Hands-on Learning Fair, or on statewide articulations for graduates of her program to be able to seamlessly continue their education at a four-year universities, Peggy is greatly involved and admired throughout the region for her efforts to move early childhood education forward.”
Esteemed as Rogers is, she’s certainly not alone at Northland. A large majority of the instructors here hold master’s or doctorate degrees just like at the universities, and all of the technical program instructors bring years of on-the-job knowledge and expertise to the classroom. So, the notion that a two-year education is somehow inferior is misguided at best. Community college just has a little different look. The quality is very much still there.
‘Quality Matters’ ONLINE
“We only get one chance to give children a first start at school, so we really need to get it right,” Rogers said. That drive towards excellence has shaped the Early Childhood & Paraprofessional program during the past decade, seeing it grow and change to meet student need. Originally offered only on campus, the program evolved into an online-only degree in the mid-2000s. Today, students can take classes both on campus or online and earn their degree with a combination of the two.
While there is a difference between learning in a classroom and learning online, the quality of the education is the same at Northland. Rogers sees to that by submitting her online classes into a rigorous evaluation program called Quality Matters (QM). It’s an international organization dedicated to upholding the quality of online courses, utilizing evaluation methods that are grounded in research (“lots of research,” according to Rogers).
As the first fully online associate’s degree program of its kind in Minnesota, Rogers said she uses QM to thoroughly and objectively critique the Early Childhood & Paraprofessional program’s online curriculum. QM evaluates everything from how easy is it to navigate the online tools and platforms to how well the courses actually align with course, program and college learning objectives. Quality Matters also provides the opportunity to assess a course’s implementation of accessibility tools that may be needed to assist students in being successful. It’s like a giant spell-checker that takes a deep dive into the content, the context, assessment and the presentation of online coursework for the benefit of the students that take online classes.
“The evaluation process includes three trained professionals who evaluate each course using a well researched rubric that identifies best practices,” Rogers said. She admits it’s a scary thing to turn over her life’s work to perfect strangers, and wait for the feedback to roll in. “I appreciate the Quality Matters process because I’m a huge proponent of making sure students understand what the course is offering and how it connects with the purpose of the course and program.”
“It does not evaluate how I teach or what I teach,” she explained. “Quality Matters looks at the design of the course to ensure that the presentation is such that student success is at the forefront. Do you know how to navigate the course? Do you know how you’re being assessed? Do you know the course objectives? Quality Matters helps me create a learning environment where students can be successful by knowing the answers to these questions.”
Why Choose Northland?
Building a community inside a classroom is one thing. Considering the independent nature of online study, it’s no small feat that Rogers has been able to create an equally strong sense of community in her digital classrooms as well.
“We really get to know each other in the online classes,” Rogers said. “Teaching online is much harder than teaching in the classroom, that’s why Quality Matters was so important to me and that’s why we put so much time into designing our online classes. As the program director, it’s really important that we remain innovative and that we’re the engine on the train and not the caboose.”
The difference between a long-term employee and a short-term employee has nothing to do with money. Instead, studies have shown that people stay at a job if they feel like they’re a part of a community where they’re making a difference. After decades in the classroom, Rogers knows the same holds true for students.
“If we can make students feel like they belong and are making a difference, that student is going to flourish,” Rogers said. “I’m a proponent of offering opportunities for students to find their best fit. For some, that best fit will be the more intimate setting we have here at Northland where we get to really know each other and build a supportive community within our classrooms.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about student success at Northland… in the classroom and beyond. When asked how students are supported after they graduate, specifically in their job search, Rogers is quick to rattle off an impressive list of resources.
“A lot of businesses and schools will actually contact us directly looking for applicants,” Rogers said with a smile that brightened her already inviting office. “Elementary schools from around the region let me know when they have teaching positions available… so do the child care centers and the Head Start programs, and I share all of that with our students. Schools will also call in and ask if I have any students that need field work experience. The community support we have is amazing. Are we lucky or what?”
Luck has nothing to do with it. Hard work, dedication to excellence, an unwavering commitment to student success… these are the reasons why people seek out Northland and its graduates. “We have a great reputation,” Rogers affirmed, “and we make sure the students know that they’re representing Northland as they go out into their communities and into their careers.”
This collective mission—a shared responsibility of faculty and students to be good stewards of the Northland name—is a natural extension of what a community college is all about: community support. It’s an ideal that seems to float in the air, through the halls and in and out of the classrooms. You can feel it. Come visit Northland Community & Technical College to see for yourself.
Strengthen your skills while enhancing your understanding of the many aspects of children’s development and education when you earn your Associate in Arts (A.A) Degree in Early Childhood Education & Paraprofessional (on campus or online) from Northland. Whether you’re just beginning your education, continuing a degree, or hoping to further your career – we invite you to explore all our academic program offerings at Northland. Together we make education happen.