- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

PRINCETON, Ind. (AP) - When Shellia Cochran closed her antique store, she knew she wanted to work with children.

“I loved my shop, but it wasn’t fulfilling enough,” the Princeton native told the Princeton Daily Clarion (https://bit.ly/1sJbGJj ). “I loved what Head Start did.”

So she returned to school to earn her associate and bachelor degrees in education at Ivy Tech Community College and University of Southern Indiana.

Cochran has been the lead teacher at Community Action Program of Evansville’s Head Start preschool on Main Street in Princeton since 2009. (There are five Head Start preschool classes in Gibson County. Cochran and the other teachers rotate and help each other where needed.)

She says she has a certainty now that she’s in the right profession.

“I felt God didn’t put me here to run an antique shop,” Cochran said, “I’m thankful I went back to school. … I love working with our children and families.”

Heather Johnson of Princeton says Cochran truly loves each of her 15 preschoolers, including Johnson’s son.

“She has been so patient with him even though his behavioral issues make him a challenge, and has helped me to understand the issues he’s having.”

On a typical school day, Cochran greets the preschoolers when they get off the bus.

The children wash their hands, take a seat on the carpet, sing a “rise and shine” welcome song, go over the calendar, practice spelling their names, wash their hands again and eat breakfast together before going onto their learning stations and other activities.

Cochran and the other teachers help them learn social skills that are first very difficult, like standing in line for the first time and interacting with others of their age group.

“That’s probably the biggest thing - the interaction. There’s a lot of new experiences for them,” she said.

Their current letter of the week is the letter P (and also lowercase p). Discussion around the letter includes sounds, vocabulary, and discussion if a student or teacher’s name starts with the letter.

“This is the most important time for their brains,” she said. It’s a time when minds can be molded.

“They’re so open-minded. They will say anything.”

Cochran’s goal is to prepare them for kindergarten.

“Some things work, some things don’t. You might think something’s great, and they don’t like it,” she said thoughtfully.

The preschoolers aren’t so different from adults when it comes to working out their personalities.

“Trying to make your classroom work with all these personalities, especially at 3, 4, 5, is challenging,” she said.

Music and reading are two other experiences Cochran enjoys teaching.

“I’m really big into reading,” she said, “I try to revolve around books.”

Last year, the preschoolers and their parents read a total of about 1,500 books, so the classroom “reading worm” stretched around the room twice.

Cochran’s husband of 16 years, Ty, visits the preschoolers throughout the school year. Once the reading worm circles the room, he buys them a pizza party as a reward.

She says she’s appreciative to her husband for the support he lends her, especially when she returned to college.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without him,” she said.

Just because her work with the children is enjoyable doesn’t mean it’s without difficulty at times. Cochran says she finds managing her work and home life can be challenging, and leaving work at work is tough.

“Life tends to present different challenges every day,” she said.

That’s something her students have already realized.

“They’re very loving,” Cochran said, “they look at us for guidance.”

“She’s been there every step of the way for (my son), and for me, really working to help us with this,” Johnson said.

“She’s not just there for a paycheck. Shellia is what every parent would want in a teacher for their child.”

___

Information from: Princeton Daily Clarion, https://www.tristate-media.com/pdclarion


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