by Claire Miller
Stacey French-Lee has mastered the art of being a Georgia State University student, faculty member and staff member, all at the same time.
When she’s not placing interns, conducting research or working directly with children as director of the College of Education’s Child Development Program, she’s teaching in the college’s Birth Through Five Program or working toward her education specialist degree.
French-Lee recently took time from her busy schedule to discuss how she discovered her love for early childhood education, her work in the Child Development Program and the importance of being a lifelong learner.
Q: How did you first become interested in early childhood education?
A: My undergraduate major in college was speech and hearing, but I wasn’t sure if that was exactly what I wanted to do. A couple of days after I graduated from college, I joined my husband, who was in the U.S. Army, in Germany where he was stationed. There weren’t many positions available in Department of Defense schools for speech therapists, so I accepted a job at a military child care center. I didn’t know much about military child care at that time, but I knew that I really loved teaching. So really, quite by happenstance, I found something that I absolutely loved.
After having been a teacher, Assistant Director and Director at military and corporate centers, I came to Georgia State in 1998 as the business manager for the Child Development Center. When the director left in 2000, she said, “Stacey, you’re the natural choice to direct the center.” And I’ve loved it.
Here, I have three roles: I’m the director of the Child Development Program, I teach in the Birth Through Five program in the Department of Early Childhood Education and I’m enrolled in the Ed.S. program in early childhood education. I never imagined when I started working at Georgia State that I would be here as long as I have been, but now I feel like I’m a part of this community. I love it because I have so many different ways that I can impact the lives of young children – by working at the center, by preparing teachers and by improving my own practices as a student. All these roles work together and are interrelated.
Q: How would you describe the mission of the Child Development Center?
A: We have a threefold mission. For one, we support research related to young children on campus. We really are interdisciplinary in nature in that faculty from other departments conduct research here and students from various departments complete course-related work through the center. Also, we place interns here and we work with the Best Practices Training Project to conduct training for teachers throughout the state of Georgia who work in birth through five settings. We serve as a model facility for different programs throughout the state. Finally, we strive to provide quality child care and education for the youngest learners at GSU.
Q: The Child Development Program at Georgia State has two centers: The Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center and the Capitol Hill Child Enrichment Center. Can you describe these centers and what their daily operations are like?
A: The classrooms in both centers are divided by age, so we have rooms for infants and ages 1-3, as well as state-funded pre-K. Children of GSU faculty, staff and students are enrolled at both locations, and at Capitol Hill, we also enroll state employees’ children.
Because we are uniquely situated within the context of the university, we have a diverse setting and our children, families and staff have access to resources on campus that benefit the program. . We have kids from different cultures, races, ethnicities and family structures. What you’ll see when you come to either of the centers is high quality care and education in an environment that is culturally responsive, where Georgia State students, faculty and staff are in the building doing research and course-related work. You’ll see teachers interacting with children or in lesson planning and resource meetings. You’ll see parent workshops going on and speakers coming in to talk to the children on different subjects. And you’ll see people from other child care centers and colleges coming in to observe our classrooms.
Q: Are there other groups or organizations you’re involved with in your spare time?
A: I’m on the exhibit advisory board for Imagine It! The Children’s Museum and I’ve worked with the Atlanta Speech School and I also do consulting. And I’m a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Olga Jarrett, an associate professor in early childhood education, and I recently published a study in the American Journal of Play on sand play. Our research was also featured in the National Coalition of Campus Children’s Centers’ fall journal. I’m really interested in making the work we do here more far-reaching to impact the lives of even more children, not just those in Georgia but across the nation. By being involved with the National Coalition of Campus Children’s Centers, our work and our research informs the practices of professionals nationally and internationally.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job as director for the Child Development Program?
A: I love interacting with the children. I have the opportunity to positively influence the growth and development of children from birth. That is a huge responsibility but it’s exciting to be able to have that impact on the lives of children.
What I do is so varied, but it’s all going toward the same goal: To be a student, staff member and faculty member whose roles converge to help me be an effective practitioner and to make a difference in the lives of children. You can’t really have a bad day working here because when you have a minute, you walk into a classroom and the kids call your name. This is what I would do with my life even if I didn’t get paid to do so. And for someone who didn’t know what they wanted to do to end up having such a passion for their work is just amazing.
For more information about the Child Development Program, visit http://education.gsu.edu/cdc/index.htm.