Stories from the Field

Lessons Learned: NEA Foundation Grant Gets Preschoolers Communicating

Lessons Learned: NEA Foundation Grant Gets Preschoolers Communicating

We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. Katrina Moreno and Karen Young-Jones, preschool para-educators from Port Arthur, Texas, hope that their students can cash in on those words by becoming photographers. They told us a little about themselves and their project.

Tell us about your plans for your NEA Foundation grant-funded project.

Our plan is to purchase kid-proof cameras to help our preschoolers speak up in our classroom. We will show the photographs on our projector and let students tell the class about them. We feel that students will be excited and passionate about displaying things they’ve created.

This kind of excitement and engagement is especially important because our students often struggle with an inability to speak in certain situations as a result of a condition called selective mutism.

Photo: Grant recipients Katrina Moreno and Karen Young-Jones

Selective mutism isn’t just the result of a young student feeling shy early in the school year or the product of a language barrier; it can last a long time even when the child knows how to answer every question. Because the child might not be able to talk, he or she loses the opportunity to show off growing knowledge and make friends with classmates.

Having a photograph to share will give these kids a way to grow more comfortable speaking in front of their peers. They love to pretend to be the teacher – here’s their chance to try it for real!

How will your NEA Foundation grant-funded project help students?

This project will increase our young students’ public speaking confidence and help them overcome the fear and nervousness they often feel when talking in front of their peers. Unfortunately, selective mutism is becoming more and more common in young children, but these kid-friendly cameras will help break down communication barriers and close the achievement gap.

Photo: A preschool student’s photograph taken as part of the grant project

How did you become an educator?

Katrina: I started out in the education field as a parent volunteer and PTA board member when my children started in pre-kindergarten in 2005. After becoming a substitute aide for a year, I was hired on as a permanent para-educator at Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs. I love every second of teaching our young students! For me, the biggest reward is seeing smiles on students’ faces after they’ve accomplished and learned something new.

Karen: I got started volunteering on the Wheatley campus many years ago. I worked as an aide in the cafeteria until the campus supervisor asked me to work full-time as a para-educator – almost twenty years ago!

Photo: More sample work from a preschool student

What is your passion – in or outside the classroom? 

Katrina: My passions are writing poetry, sketching and painting, and hiking. I love being outdoors and taking pictures. My goal every day is to make someone smile or laugh and to make a memorable difference in their life.

Karen: I love arts and crafts, music, and dance. I’m always thrilled to be able to spend time with my grandchildren. I treat each day as a chance to learn something new that I can apply to my everyday life.

Featured NEA Foundation grantees Katrina Moreno and Karen Young-Jones are para-educators at Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs in Port Arthur, Texas. Check out the NEA Foundation Website for more information on how to apply for grant resources as an education support professional. Learn about other grant projects we’ve funded in the NEA Foundation Grantee Archive. The next deadline for application is February 1, 2016.