Tuesday, September 16, 2008

'Because I Promised'

A promise to her grandson on his first birthday led Mary Stoklas back to the classroom as a student herself and on to the achievement of being named one of the best preschool education students in the nation.

Stoklas, who had a long career selling educational materials, is currently working towards an associate degree in early childhood education at Gwinnett Technical College. The grandmother of two recently earned a gold medal in the preschool teaching assistant division at the national SkillsUSA competition, held annually to recognize and encourage the achievements of technical education students.

"When my grandson turned one, I promised him that by the time he started kindergarten, grandma would have a college degree," says Stoklas.

It was admittedly a bit of a rocky start. "I pulled into – and out of – the parking lot at Gwinnett Tech four times before I even got out of the car," she remembers. Now starting her second year in the program, Stoklas is considered a star student by her instructors and younger peers. She is currently working in a private pre-school program while completing her degree.

"Mary is always a teacher. She helps others in class. She's the first one to explain things peer-to-peer," says Dr. Priscilla Smith, program director for early childhood education at Gwinnett Tech. "She's like a sponge – always looking for a better way to do things. She grasps ideas and gets excited about using them in the classroom."

"I had a wealth of life experience working with preschool children and in the education field, but this degree teaches me the actual theory and practice of teaching. It confirms what my instincts tell me to do," adds Stoklas.

Stoklas' win at nationals in the preschool teaching division completes a trifecta of excellence for Gwinnett Tech, marking the third year in a row that a Gwinnett Tech student has taken the gold medal in the preschool teaching category.

One of Gwinnett Tech's fastest growing programs, the early childhood education program is only in its fifth year. The program, its faculty and students have also been honored by Georgia Association on Young Children. Students in the two-year degree program combine classroom training with hands-on learning at the Hudgens Early Education Center on Gwinnett Tech's campus, a state-of-the-art preschool and childcare center open to the community.

Stoklas' path to the national SkillsUSA competition started with wins at the local and then state level. She was joined at nationals by several other state gold medal winners from Gwinnett Tech, including Kevin Ervin, cabinetmaking; Daniel Price, carpentry; Jesse Jones, CNC turning; and Anya Rice, photography. Three other GTC students were honored at the state SkilsUSA competition, including Do Nguyen, who received a silver metal in photography; Wilda Courney, who received a bronze metal in photography; and Riley Cook, who received a bronze metal in precision machining.For more information about any of Gwinnett Tech's more than 140 program options, contact 770-962-7580 or visit www.gwinnetttech.edu.
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