By Duane Retzlaff
When Tabatha Rosproy was named National Teacher of the Year in 2020, she became the first early childhood educator to receive that honor.
“I did not take that lightly. It meant to me that early childhood educators were beginning to get some of the recognition and respect that our K–12 counterparts had been given,” she said. “It’s really exciting for me to bear witness to the beautiful and amazing, important, valuable work that is happening from the ages of zero to 5.”
Rosproy said the award also made her reflect on her own journey, the people and programs that had helped her. And she thought of the preschool classroom she helped establish in a Winfield, Kansas, nursing home. That project—“the feather in my cap,” she says—grabbed attention around the country and led to the national teaching honor.
But she couldn’t make that preschool classroom happen by herself—it resulted from building relationships with fellow teachers, school administrators, local businesses, and community members in Winfield.
Rosproy will talk about building partnerships and working together with and for families at the 2023 Thriving Children, Families, and Communities Conference on Sept. 19 in Kearney. Click here to register
The preschool project started with a colleague who had come from Coffeyville, Kansas, where the school district had a Kindergarten class in a local nursing home. Soon the two of them were talking with their school superintendent about how great it would be to do something like that in Winfield. He raised the idea to nursing home officials at a Chamber of Commerce coffee event and was floored by the message on his answering machine when he got back to school.
“They said, ‘We’re in. What do we need to do next?’” Rosproy said.
The preschool became a reality because it solved a problem for everyone involved. The school district was out of space and didn’t have the money to build additional classrooms, Rosproy said, and the nursing home was enthused about the value for its residents. A 2016 report from Stanford University
found that when older adults contribute to the well-being of youth, it cultivates a sense of purpose and extends benefits both ways.
The Cumbernauld Little Vikes
preschool classroom opened in 2018 with 16 youngsters and many more resident “grandmas and grandpas.”
“It is a really special place. But it was a long journey,” she said.
Rosproy knew early on that she liked helping people, and working with kids, but it clicked for her as a junior in high school when she volunteered to teach Spanish to preschoolers.
“That’s where the magic started for me in early childhood, getting to see them develop so rapidly. It felt to me this age group specifically was so important to work with, zero to 5 years old. Now I know that research is saying that’s when the brain is developing the most rapidly.”
Rosproy earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Southwestern College in Winfield, and spent four years in the Salina, Kansas, school district, teaching in a Head Start classroom. She left Salina for Winfield, where she spent eight years in the public school system in early childhood special education, working with 3- and 4-year-olds, and helping start the Little Vikes preschool.
These days, Rosproy spends most of her time out of the classroom. She and her husband, Tim, moved from Winfield to Olathe for his job, and now she’s working for the Kansas Parent Information Resource Center, traveling the state training schools on best practices in early childhood education and family engagement.
It’s a little tough not having her own classroom anymore, she admits.
“I miss it—I miss it so much. But I know the work I’m doing is important. I get to help communities build these kinds of programs in their classrooms, I get to talk about the power of family and community engagement,” she said.
Her main message at the Thriving Children conference will be about unity.
“I think that so often we all try to bear the load on our own, and the truth is that this work can’t be done on our own,” Rosproy said. “We can’t be siloed. I want to draw attention to the importance of connection.”
Duane Retzlaff is a communications associate at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, helping share the Institute’s work with educators, child care providers, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the general public.
Have a comment, a question, or a story idea? Reach Duane at firstname.lastname@example.org.