Today’s story comes from Monya Vuletic, a KinderCare district manager in southern New Jersey. While out and about visiting centers she met a teacher who takes the KinderCare Education service values, particularly “I meet the unique needs of every child,” to heart. Vuletic explains how this teacher embodies our company values below in her own words.
There is a quote I heard once: “every person has a story worth telling.” I never really gave that quote much thought until recently when I ran into a woman whose story was so inspiring I wanted to help her tell it.
Dianna Figueroa is an infant teacher at the Church Street KinderCare Learning Center in Mount Laurel, NJ: she has a love for children and a gift for teaching just like all of our amazing educators. What makes Dianna’s story unique is what she teaches to our youngest pupils; sign language.
I was visiting the center one day and sitting on the floor in the infant room when one of the little guys started repeating a gesture to me; Kathy Santino, the center director, informed me that the child was signing.
“No way,” I thought. “He isn’t even old enough to speak.”
I looked over at the teacher, Dianna, to see her smiling from ear to ear.
“They all know sign language,” she said. “I’ve been teaching them some basics.”
Our theme at the time was Amazing Animals and just on cue, the teacher prompted to the little boy to sign fishy and elephant. I couldn’t believe it, but he signed fishy then brought me the stuffed toy fish. Dianna told me that each of the infants knows how to sign “more milk”, “tired,” “hungry,” and” cookie.” She was so proud of her young pupils’ accomplishments and went on to say that their vocal cords may not be developed yet but they can be taught to sign. She told me how much [knowing how to sign] cuts down on the infants’ frustrations when they want something but are unable to communicate it to the adult.
“If they are hungry, they just tell me and if they are tired, they can tell me that too,” she said.
I must admit I was curious and asked Dianna if someone in her family was deaf. She said no and said she did not get interested in sign language until she was in high school. There was a girl in her school who had an interpreter and she was fascinated with the signing they were doing every day. Simply put, she said, “I wanted to know what they were talking about.” Dianna went home and asked her parents to buy her a few books about sign language. She practiced in the mirror until she felt comfortable enough to walk up to her schoolmate and spark up a conversation. Dianna not only developed a unique language skill but also befriended a lonely girl who had only her interpreter as a companion.
When Dianna graduated high school she went on to college with the intent of becoming a teacher. She knew teaching was the career for her – she never wanted to do anything else. She was required to take a second language in college and as she was already sort of fluent in sign language she felt college would be the perfect venue to expand on her self-taught skills.
Dianna came to work at Church Street KinderCare as a student teacher; she needed a set amount of class time to earn her degree. The center had an opening in the infant room and though Dianne honestly never gave it a second thought the infant room is where she would make the biggest impact. Having the infants all on their own schedules allows an ample amount of time for Dianna to work with them one-on-one as well as in a group. If two children are napping, she works with the two that are awake and so on.
As I sat in front of my lap top trying to tell her story I struggled to convey the dedication and passion Dianna has towards what she is doing with her young students. One can feel the emotion she emits as she talks about how much she believes in what she is doing.
“Our curriculum is world class and I use every part of it,” she told me. “I just incorporate sign language where it would work out best.”
Parents are so surprised when they see how well their infants can communicate; she said it expanded the dialogue of she has with them, sharing their child’s day. If a family walks in to tour the infant room, there is no doubt they will enroll. Once they are with us they see the amazing work Dianna puts forth on their child’s behalf and they stay. But the biggest winners here are the children.
When I started to put my thoughts together I did a lot of poking around on the internet on the subject. What I found was an article from the Mayo Clinic that suggests that a baby who is taught sign language typically can communicate several months earlier than those who only use vocal communication. The article goes on to say that “…this might help ease frustration between ages 8 months and 2 years – when children begin to know what they want, need and feel but don’t necessarily have the verbal skills to express themselves. Children who have developmental delays might benefit, too.”
PsychCentral had a very similar article and it pointed out the same facts, including that “…infants who learn baby sign language also are thought to gain psychological benefits such as improved confidence and self-esteem. Feelings of anger due to an inability to communicate may not occur as often.”
Our amazing Dianna is quick to share how much parents benefit for the whole experience. Parents say that signing is rewarding and aids in bonding because of the need to make more eye-to-eye and tactile contact. The parents of Dianna’s tiny students couldn’t be more thrilled by what’s happening. They talk to her about it every day. How is that for delivering on our core service values! Dianna is a true gem, we are so grateful to have her working with us and touching lives in an exceptional way.