- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

YORK, Pennsylvania (AP) - By 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, two babies squirmed in Chayanee Propst’s lap and a few more crawled on the floor around her in the YWCA’s “Bumblebee” room.

Propst, the YWCA’s lead infant teacher, and her colleague moved from baby to baby, offering bottles, snuggles and toys. She spoke to them constantly, often singing about their activities.

“Good morning, good morning. How are you? I am fine, I am fine, I hope are, too,” she sang.

Babies need to be spoken to just like adults - like people, said Propst, a York resident who just finished her master’s degree in teaching and curriculum from Penn State Harrisburg in July.

Propst, who’s earned several early childhood education awards, takes the importance of learning at a young age seriously. It’s a luxury she wasn’t afforded herself, as a young girl growing up in the jungles of Thailand. Despite difficult circumstances, her parents instilled in her a love for education and the belief that it can change lives - a belief she wants to pass on to York children today.

Propst, 50, was born along the border of Myanmar and Thailand. With help, her family escaped violence there to settle in Northern Thailand, where they lived in a bamboo hut in Ngao, Thoeng, in the province of Chaing Rai.

While many children started school around age 7, Propst could not start until she was 9 because, arriving from the border, she had no identification. Schools were scarce and she traveled miles, by foot or later bicycle, to get there.

Her parents, who farmed rice and tobacco, pushed their children to get an education. It could change her life, they said.

“They wanted to give us education as much as they can so we could have a good life,” she said. Every night, she returned from school, and with no electricity, read to her parents by candle or oil lamp.

Propst’s father pushed her toward nursing, but by Thailand’s standards she was deemed too petite for the career. Heartbroken, her father sent her to study law at university in Bangkok, she said. That wasn’t her desire, though, and after her father passed away, Propst pursued a degree in public relations.

But it was a 45-day volunteer stint along the Cambodian border that changed her life. There, she worked with poor families in the jungle - much like where she grew up. She stayed with families, taught them to read and write and about cooking and hygiene. The volunteers helped build a school.

Propst fell in love with watching children grow every day. When she returned to Bangkok, she taught kindergarten for 13 years until she married an American man and moved to the United States in 2004.

Here, she took a day care job and began pursuing more education. She wanted to know more about how baby’s brains work, and she earned a child development associate credential and a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from Penn State York. She took a brief break before pursuing her master’s degree in teaching and curriculum and plans to earn one in early childhood education, too.

Ruby Martin, chief program officer at the YWCA, said Propst is a pillar in the child care program, consistent and always happy.

Propst understands the importance of communicating with babies, Martin said, and is the kind of teacher who will put a toy 3 inches from the child’s farthest reach to push them.

“She’s constantly developing these babies to the next level,” Martin said.

Propst believes that building good citizens starts with infants. Parents trust her with the care of babies as young as 6 weeks, and they deserve the best, she said.

“I love them like my own children,” she said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1UovyuE

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Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com

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