Warwick resident to graduate URI as top student studying early childhood development

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Mid-life career change leads to teaching profession

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 18, 2008 – After 25 years of working for oral surgeons as an anesthesia assistant, Patricia Jaspers found her true calling and is becoming an early childhood teacher. She will graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 18 and receive the President’s Award for Student Excellence as the top early childhood development student on campus.

“I have always wanted to attend college and get a degree,” said Jaspers, who lives on the border of Warwick and East Greenwich. “I have finally achieved my goal to be an early elementary school teacher.”

It wasn’t easy for Jaspers to leave her job and enroll at URI as a full-time student, but her husband Lee and her sons Austin, 14, and Joshua, 12, were very supportive.

“My husband was a big motivator for me, and when I got a good grade on a test, my boys would tell me that they’re proud of me,” she recalled. “It helped that my first classes were at the Providence campus with mostly older students who were in my same shoes, so I felt very comfortable going back to school.”

When she began taking classes at the URI Kingston campus with mostly traditional aged students, she was pleasantly surprised with the relationships she developed with her fellow students.

“Almost all of them were much younger than me, and on one level I felt somewhat motherly with them, but they also grew to be my friends,” Jaspers said. “We respected each other and it was a very helpful and wonderful experience being in class with them. Despite our age difference, we all felt like we were on the same level.”

Perhaps her biggest challenge was when she walked into a second grade class at Drum Rock Elementary School in Warwick for her first experience as a student teacher.

“I was nervous at first, but I started out just observing and then gradually I got more and more responsibility until, in my last two months, I was responsible for the entire classroom,” said Jaspers. “My biggest fear was that I wasn’t going to be interesting enough to the children to keep their attention. But it turned out great! I met some wonderful people, I loved the learning environment, and I love teaching children. I got a great feeling when I saw a child who was struggling finally grasp a concept and light up.”

Jaspers’ degree in early childhood development allows her to teach children from pre-kindergarten through second grade, but she intends to take four more classes this summer so she will qualify to teach in all elementary school grades. And then she will begin looking for a teaching job.

“My student teaching experience was in a second grade class, and it was a great experience, so I really hope to find a position teaching early elementary,” Jaspers concluded. “I’ve only been away from that class for a short time and I already miss the interaction with the children. I will be happy teaching almost anywhere. It’s my calling.”