We caught up with Paula recently to learn more about her role as an Early Learning School educator, her passion for teaching, and how she finds joy in her life.

My name is Paula Voss and I feel very fortunate to be teaching here at the JCC’s Early Learning School. This past January marked my 31st year as an early childhood educator. I’ve spent the last five of those years here at the ELS. People often ask me what has kept me in ECE or why haven’t I moved on to older grades? I don’t look at early childhood teaching as a steppingstone to elementary school. What has kept me in this field for many years is simply joy. The joy of watching a child discover a seed sprout, a baking soda and vinegar volcano erupt, or sticking their hand in paint for the first time.

What I believe sets our school apart from others is our approach to learning. There is no set curriculum: the experiences we provide for children are based on their interests. By following the interests of the children, we are able to engage them with hands-on learning that will be remembered. I often think back to my days in school and wonder how different I would have felt if someone took the time to care about what I wanted to learn and then create activities to explore these interests. When all children are given the opportunity to experience learning in this way, they are able to apply what they learn to other situations as they move up in grades.

Another wonderful part of our school is our devotion to inclusion and social emotional learning. We are able to help children, from very young infants to the 5 year olds, manage and learn about their feelings. We work as a team, devoting time to finding what strategies work best for children who need a little more help with big feelings. The ELS views children’s thoughts and feelings just as important as being able to hold a pencil, write their name or recognize letters. All this happens within the classroom as children play. Which, as Mr. Rogers says, is the work of children. It’s a wonderful thing when all children can grow in a setting that sees them as capable humans that aren’t preparing for their education but are already a part of it.

I take great pride in being part of the most important years in a child’s development. These early years are the foundation for a child’s love of school and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.