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Educating the littlest learners: York College student hopes to impact kindergarteners

Maria with children's book

Maria Balafoutas ’21 thought her high school internship in a kindergarten class would resemble a lot of her babysitting jobs. Outside of snack time and finger painting, she found the littlest learners had a lot to teach her. “There’s so much development that happens at that age,” she says. “It’s incredible to see a kindergarten student take on new skills in just a year.”

It was that experience that led Balafoutas to pursue a degree in Early Elementary Education. Choosing where she would go for the degree was easy. Growing up in Hanover, Pennsylvania, Balafoutas had seen York College of Pennsylvania student teachers in a variety of classrooms. “Even at a young age, I was impressed with the teachers who came from York College,” she says. “If they knew what they were doing 10 years ago, they’d certainly know what they were doing now.”

Developing educators

Balafoutas felt from the beginning that York College was equipping her to lead in the classroom. As a first-year student, she developed lesson plans that gave her a taste of what she’d later do as an educator. Outside of her coursework, Balafoutas also found opportunities to network and learn from others in the field.

As the President of the Student Education Association (SEA), Balafoutas can interact with a variety of education majors at York College. “Even though we don’t all have the same classes together, we’re all passionate about professional development,” she says. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other.”

She’s also Vice President of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education, where she continues to stretch her leadership skills and look for opportunities to give back to the community. In each of these organizations, Balafoutas says, she’s learning what it means to lead her peers and make valuable connections.

She often reaches out to local educators, professionals in the field, and alumni who describe their experiences and encourage education majors to get excited about their future careers. “We can be better educators by learning from a variety of avenues,” Balafoutas says. “There’s a lot we can learn from those who are already in the classroom.”

A changing environment

As she prepares to start student teaching in January, Balafoutas is watching other educators adapt to the changes that COVID-19 has made to teaching. “It really puts into perspective how important education is, even in times like this,” she says.

Despite the challenges the pandemic may bring, Balafoutas says, she feels equipped to head into the classroom, no matter what it may look like in the years to come.

“I’m excited to put all this knowledge I’ve developed over the past few years to use and to use it to impact students who need the help I can give them,” she says. “I’ve learned so much at York College. I’m ready to embark on what’s next.”

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