Teaching young children in an environment impacted by COVID-19 has been a challenge for even seasoned educators. But child development and family studies major Kimberly Parson was up to the task.

“My student teaching was delayed last fall due to COVID, when all the schools closed,” she said. “I was excited to go ahead and get started. I thought about the students, too. Literacy and language acquisition are so important, and harder now that COVID has disrupted learning. I was ready to help them catch up.”

When Guilford County schools welcomed students back to classrooms this semester, Parson was ready to take her place in a kindergarten classroom at Ronald E. McNair Elementary School in Greensboro.

“On the first day, the teacher let me lead small group for writing. It was my first time meeting all the students,” she said. “It was challenge at the time to meet all the students’ needs, especially with 15 students in the classroom. Keeping them engaged the entire time can be hard. But now I have learned all their strengths and weaknesses.”

Keeping 15 wiggly kindergartners engaged and focused, with masks and social distancing, took planning and forethought, but those were skills Parson has learned working with mentors and professors in the Child Development and Family Studies program in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. When the time came, she said, was ready to overcome the challenges

“My professors at A&T have shown me how to think beyond, and how important that is,” she said.

Parson came to N.C. A&T with a sense of purpose and a career path in mind.

As a high school senior in Columbia, S.C., Parson thought she wanted to be an athletic trainer. She had an internship with a physical therapy office during the day and worked with her high school’s sports teams after school. But she was also participating in the Teacher Cadet Program at her high school, a national program designed to attract high-achieving high school students to teaching.

“I had to have a field experience in an elementary school, and I was placed in a kindergarten,” she said. “I was so happy to be there every day. With athletic training, I was just bored. I didn’t feel as excited to be there as I thought I would. In the kindergarten class, I was instantly excited. I was so happy there, participating in all of their activities with them, that I could see myself actually doing that as a career.”

Of several colleges she applied to, N.C. A&T was the only HBCU.

“My oldest brother told me to apply. I came on Scholars Day during my senior year and instantly felt a connection,” she said. “I knew the great reputation, and I felt the family atmosphere. I decided that A&T was the one.”

Once enrolled, Parson went straight for child development and family studies as a major.

“I’ve known Kimberly since she walked through the Benbow Hall doors, and she knew exactly what she wanted – to be an educator of young kids,” said Associate Professor Valerie J. McMillan, Ph.D., who is Parson’s mentor and academic advisor. “I recognized her as the ‘full package.’ She seeks out guidance and mentorship – she’ll find you, you don’t have to seek her out. She has poise and kindness beyond her years, and she’s a thinker as well as a doer. She has the skills to do well.”

Even as she got used to campus, Parson began seeking out opportunities to mentor and teach children. As a freshman, she started helping a local child with schoolwork and being a mentor for her through Big Brothers Big Sisters; she has maintained that relationship for all four years of college. She joined a group on campus called Queen In You to mentor and support fellow female students. She served on its executive board and mentored female juniors and seniors at Dudley High School through the group as well, calling their program Queens in Training, helping to prepare them for college. She also mentored students at Melvin C. Swann Jr. Middle School.

During her sophomore year, she joined AmeriCorps and spent 675 hours tutoring children from low-income areas. That same year, she began helping after-school teachers in their classroom at the Black Child Development Institute of Greensboro, the local branch of the national advocacy nonprofit. That summer, she was offered position as intern with Freedom School, an after-school and summer enrichment program of the national nonprofit advocacy group Children’s Defense Fund. She was given a classroom and 10 students to teach in integrated reading curriculum.

“We decorated each classroom according to a theme. The theme I chose for my classroom was ‘superheroes,’ because I knew my students well enough to know that would interest them,” she said.

During the year, she worked in the Family and Consumer Sciences’ departmental office with Associate Professor Valerie Giddings, Ph.D., the department chair, on student recruitment. She went to career fairs at high schools, spoke on panels for prospective students, and reached out to prospective students over the summer. Giddings was impressed.

“Kimberly is smart, articulate, hard-working and respectful,” Giddings said. “She is a leader and a role model for our students. She’s one of those rare students who make you so proud to have had the opportunity to know her and work with her.”

In my junior year, Parson worked with United Negro College Fund as a Walton K-12 Education Fellow. In the community outreach manager position, she helped develop a school model for Detroit Public Schools.

Parson’s hard work has been rewarded with several scholarships: the Family and Consumer Sciences Undergraduate Scholarship and the Hattie M. Strong scholarship from the Department of Education. She received an Education Preparation (EPP) scholarship through that department, as well.

After graduation, Parson will take her skills to teach in the school system in Fairfax County, Virginia. In the long term, she plans to go to graduate school, with the goal of becoming a principal.

“FCS has pushed me,” she said. “Dr. Giddings, Dr. McMillan and Dr. Guy are the reason why I feel so prepared. They made us study really hard, which helped in my clinicals because I had information right on top of my head – I could use it quickly. They also taught me to be more openminded and to take advantage of new experiences, and to hold myself to a certain standard.

“If I could have seen myself today when I started four years ago, I would have been shocked. I never would have expected to be as accomplished as I am today,” Parson said. “A&T was definitely the right choice.”