HOMETOWN: Dumont, NJ
"I know who I am now because of STAC."
Newly-minted alumna, Kayla (’17) has an undergraduate degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education, a job she loves teaching first graders, and, oh yeah, a published book. All because of STAC.
The degree and career were in the original plans, but not the book. It came out of Dr. Shaw’s “Literature for Children” course that Kayla took in the fall of her junior year. The final assignment for the class was to write a fully-realized children’s book that followed a detailed set of requirements concerning plot, conflict, resolution, character development, and so on. Undaunted, Kayla drew on the personal experiences of her brother to craft what would become the title character in Harold the Giraffe: You are TOO Tall. “My brother, who was 15 when I wrote it, had just been diagnosed with epilepsy, and he began to be bullied at school for being epileptic.” It changed the focus of her book, away from an anti-bullying platform and towards creating a “culture of celebrating differences.” After experiencing the success of this first book, Kayla is planning to return to Harold and his classmates in a second book, one that also is aimed at making a difference.
The Blue Buddy Backpack Project is Kayla—and Harold’s—next adventure as that describes Harold’s backpack. Kayla is piloting a project to make these buddy backpacks to sell along with the book. The backpacks will contain stickers, coloring books, and other items to give kids something of Harold’s they can carry around with them, and to help them “learn to be a buddy instead of a bully.”
Even though Dr. Shaw and the School of Education hold a special place in Kayla’s career, she credits all of her STAC professors with her success. “I was very involved when I attended STAC. Academically, attending STAC is the best decision I could have made. I used to do the Open House tours, and I would tell prospective students that it’s an experience you don’t get anywhere else, both in terms of academics and friendships. It’s a small school so you know everyone and can get that one-on-one experience with professors.” Kayla says she would tell kids on her tours that “STAC is what you make it. It’s a small campus so you’re always meeting people and can put yourself out there and take advantage of the experience that small environment has to offer.”
With a teaching career underway and a second book being planned, Kayla is moving forward but knows she will never forget what STAC has done for her, Dr. Shaw in particular. “I admire Dr. Shaw because he loved his job on the day he retired as much as he did 40 years earlier when he started out. That always stuck with me. And through that love, he taught us students how to become teachers. He would always say, ‘You make my heart have a gigantic smile!’” When it came time to publish the book, Kayla dedicated it to the professor that had already shaped more than her teaching career, letting him and the world know that it is he, and STAC, that make Kayla’s heart smile.