They graduated in December, ready to take on the real world.
But, two months later, CMU alumnae Abbey Nirva and Kelsey Koewers still find themselves working at the Child Development and Learning Lab, the preschool inside the College of Education and Human Services Building. Four days a week, 72 children spend part of their afternoon there, interacting with students and faculty.
More than 100 students work in the lab for school credit, and additional students, five undergraduate and two graduate students, work in the lab for employment, alongside full-time staff memberss.
CDLL Faculty Director Cheryl Priest said the lab serves as a training facility for students who major or minor in child development.
“It is amazing to have strong students majoring in Early Childhood Development and Learning, because we know that they are going to make a difference in the lives of children around Michigan,” Priest said.
Nirva, of Allen Park, and Koewers, of Lowell, worked as student employees last semester and were kept for another semester after graduation because the lab required staff to help a child full-time.
“On occasion, when someone works really well with our program and there’s an opportunity later, we make sure they know about this opportunity,” Priest said. “Abby and Kelsey were hired temporarily, because we had a special need within the program.”
She said in this case they were able to continue to work with two outstanding students and former student employees who were available for the time period they needed. We consider ourselves extremely lucky, she said.
Nirva is currently working in the lab as a paraprofessional. She prepares activities for the classroom, works in the kitchen in the morning afternoons works individually with the child.
“I feed her and walk around with her,” Nirva said. “She is the sunshine to my day; she makes my life so much better. We’re great together.”
Koewers has been employed by CDLL since August 2011, and before that, she was a student teacher in the lab. She said after her experience working at the lab previously, she wouldn’t turn down the position this semester.
“With my job position still available, there was no question in my mind whether to stay or not. It is such an amazing place to work in and be a part of,” Koewers said. “I honestly believe that there is no better preschool out there than the Child Development and Learning Lab here at CMU.”
While working at the lab, Koewers said she has built great relationships with children, faculty and other students.
“I chose to stay to not only get an amazing reference added to my resume for the future, but I also simply didn’t want to leave the school, my coworkers, who I now consider great friends, as well as the children, some of which I have now known for almost two years,” she said.
Both Nirva and Koewers believe they have been lucky to work in the lab, which has taught them aspects they could only learn firsthand.
Koewers said she has gained aspects of patience, diversity, support and understanding.
“Working in the lab has shown me how adults can be a major support system for children in so many ways,” she said. “Letting the children know you’re there to support them can be key to having them enjoy learning as well as relaxing and trusting in the people and environment.”
Nirva said she has gained a lot of hands-on experience, as well as now seeing children in a new light.
“I always thought that I knew how to connect with children, but being in classes and actually learning and applying it in the classroom has been an eye-opener,” she said.
They’re at a vital age and are capable of learning so much, she said.
Both Nirva and Koewers are sad to leave the CDLL after the spring semester.
“The lab is and will be one of the best parts of my life, and the idea of leaving it in the spring devastates me,” Koewers said. “It is an amazing place, and I can only dream I will work in and send my future children to half of a school that the CDLL is.”
Nirva said the lab is a fun atmosphere and much more than what students see on the exterior.
“It’s so much cooler than people know. It’s a top-notch preschool. It’s nothing like when we were kids,” Nirva said. “You never want to leave. It’s great.”