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Living Stories

Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education


Susan Bernheimer

In Living Stories: Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education, Susan Bernheimer takes the reader into her journey with a group of nontraditional college students. Bernheimer’s struggle to find a meaningful approach to teaching the students about early childhood development and care is infused with the insights and wisdom that come from listening to, and valuing, the remarkable stories of her students’ lives. This book offers a powerful new road map for early childhood teacher preparation through a relational pedagogy that honors students’ life experiences and that leads to deep reflection and learning. The approach is embedded in students’ strengths and knowledge and is successfully inclusive of an increasingly diverse student demographic. Bernheimer provides an inclusive model of education that builds upon the strengths of all students. 

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Chapter Five. Journey Into Higher Education


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Chapter 5


Journey Into Higher Education

After years of tumultuous struggles, these women were finally able to reach their dream of attending college. This dream was more than one more step in an educational plan. It was part of a passionate desire to gain the skills and credentials needed to become early childhood educators. They knew from their own lives of deprivation the importance of this work. They were ready to take their first faltering steps into higher education.

Entering the college environment marked the beginning of a new phase in the women’s lives. I wondered how students with such devastating backgrounds could successfully become part of early childhood teacher preparation programs. One thing was clear to me: simply enrolling in classes would not provide the needed support for them to become part of a world so different from their upbringing. The women were strangers to institutions of higher education. Their needs and life circumstances did not match those of middle-class students. Their appearance, language and background did not fit in with the mainstream culture they were now encountering. ← 65 | 66 →

For students such as Dimitria, Lakesha, and Olivia, taking courses to improve their academic skills is obvious. What is less obvious is how to address the profound disconnect of entering this new environment. The question still facing higher education is, “What is necessary to address the needs and cultural disconnect of nontraditional students?”

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