UMass Sesquicentennial

UWW alumni spotlight: Thelma Peeples


Volunteering in her daughter's Head Start classroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut opened the door for 62 year old Thelma Peeples' academic and professional career in the field of early care and education.  After completing her bachelor's degree with UMass Amherst UWW in 2007 at the age of 56, Thelma continued her education and earned a Master's degree in Early Care and Education from Ashford University.  Still very active in the Head Start community, this grandmother of 10 now works as the Senior Coordinator of Child Development, creating and supporting the curriculum for more than 80 classrooms.  Her concentration: Early Care and Education.  Her UWW advisor: Karen Stevens.

Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?

As a parent volunteer in my daughter's Head Start classroom, I realized I found a passion in interacting with preschool children.  Various jobs later, at thirty-seven, I was told I could pursue higher education in order to gain knowledge about the field of early care and education.  Through a program called Economic Self-Sufficiency, Marge Cromwell connected me with Delores Curtis at our local community college.  I told Ms. Curtis I felt awkward sitting in class with young people, but she was so encouraging, letting me know that there is no age limit for an adult learner.  I started at the local community college with anxiety and came to love my learning in the classroom as I assisted my four children through school.

Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?

When I graduated from community college 13 years later, I was still passionate about early childhood education.  I had a scholarship that I had no idea what to do with.  Head Start began requiring higher levels of education and I was advancing to administrative staff in my agency.  I now needed to set an example for the other staff but did not know how I was going to do this.  My Head Start daughter graduated from high school the same year I graduated with my Associate's degree, but since she was still at home I wondered if I could go back to sitting in a classroom.  I overheard a teacher talking about UMass Amherst University Without Walls and interrupted her conversation.  She told me what little she knew about this program and gave me UWW faculty member Karen Stevens’ contact information.  I contacted Karen who came to ABCD, Inc. and presented the information for a blended course of in-class and online that fit into the lifestyle of adult learners.  

There is a legendary story here at UWW about you recruiting and bringing in a whole cohort of Head Start teachers from Bridgeport to be UWW students together, and you being the leader and main peer support person and mentor for that group. Can you talk more about that?

UMass UWW responded to the request to do courses right at ABCD in Bridgeport, CT if I could get enough students signed up.  This started my efforts that took me around the city recruiting and telling everyone about this fantastic opportunity.  I recruited other Head Start teachers and administrators so as a group we could support each other.  We had one student who traveled to ABCD from another program, who was among one of the first to graduate.  She, too, became part of the family atmosphere we built.  I did take on a leadership role because I believed in the program and what it could do to meet Head Start requirements while giving us an advantage of having the courses at our agency.  I became friends with our advisor, Karen Stevens, and acted as a liaison between many of the professors and students.

What was the best part about being a UWW student for you?

Wow, there were so many things.  The advisors and professors were amazingly supportive.  The curriculum was rigorous and I learned an abundance of practical information for early childhood.  My leadership skills were built by my supporting so many of those in the program.

What was your favorite class at UMass Amherst?

Multicultural Education, EDUC 377 was my favorite course, since I have to select one.  This course gave me a broader understanding of how culture impacts children's learning and as teachers we need to adjust how we teach instead of the other way around.

What was the best part of writing a portfolio to earn credit for experience for you?

Writing my introduction was the best part of writing my portfolio.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect over career choices, changes and the direction my life was moving in.  Having moments to reflect upon life's goals, as well as fulfillment, was a moving experience for me.  Also, being able to look back at how much I learned over my years in early care and education.

Where did you take your classes?  Online?  On campus?  Blended?

As stated, we took classes right at ABCD in Bridgeport two Saturdays a month.  We submitted our homework online.  Eventually our courses went totally online.  We had several opportunities to visit the campus for training and testing.  Those moments were fulfilling to all of us.

How did you balance work, school and other responsibilities?  What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?

My advice to all students continuing their education is to have a good schedule and stick with it.  I had certain nights for homework, nights for reading, etc.  Rarely did I deviate from my schedule even while I was on vacation.  I remember one of the six week summer courses where we had to read a lot, so I didn't waste a minute.  I read at stop lights – not a good idea – but I took every opportunity to read.  It is also being organized and having family support.  So, some nights my husband had to cook dinner. 

In what ways did UWW prepare you for graduate school?

My experience at UWW prepared me for the amount of writing that would be required in graduate school.  It also prepared me for the amount of reading, sometimes several chapters in a week.  Having established a schedule and submitting homework online got me accustomed to submitting online.  The other preparation was being able to participate in discussion questions.  For me, entering into the MA Ed program was a smooth transition.

We know you graduated recently with your Master’s degree.  Congratulations!  What was the degree, what was it in, from what school?

Thankfully, I received additional scholarship funds and went to Ashford University online.  I graduated with my Master's in Education, Early Care and Education. 

Tell us about your current job.

Currently my job is Senior Coordinator of Child Development in a Head Start program.  I support 399 teaching staff in over 80 classrooms.  I write and support curriculum for 1200 plus children.  Working with children birth to five years old still remains a passion.

What are your plans for the future, professionally and personally?

Professionally, I want to take courses and pursue a Master's in Special Education.  Of course, I am looking for scholarships to support my goal, but I think it would improve my delivery of services to our community.  Personally, my plans are to enjoy my nine grandchildren and welcome number 10 in December, 2013.  They are the light of my life (I also get to practice my knowledge on the younger ones).  Spending time with my husband and traveling gives me opportunities to read and relax.

Tell readers something cool about yourself that no one would guess about you?

In the past two years, I discovered a hidden talent.  I am very creative at designing jewelry.  I make bracelets, earrings and recently expanded into necklaces.  This surprises me because I never thought I had any creativity but now I look at beads and colors and then begin creating beautiful designs.  It started as a stress relief technique and now I get requests for my designs. 

Please add anything else you want people to know about you, your family, and your story.

When it comes to education, I am competitive and love learning. Therefore, I graduated from UMass UWW with a 4.0.  The following year, I was invited back to UMass to speak at the Honors Society ceremony (Sigma Lambda Lambda).  My goal was to gradate with a 4.0 for my Master's degree.  I accomplished this and again was selected for the Golden Key Honor Society.  I traveled to Iowa to attend my graduation fulfilling another dream on my educational journey. 

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