For the first time in nearly 58 years, the National Teacher of the Year Award goes to a Kansas educator, and for the first time in the 68 year history of the award, the honor is being bestowed to a preschool teacher.
And she is a local area teacher.
Tabatha Rosproy, a preschool teacher at Winfield Early Learning Center, had been named the 2020 National Teacher of the Year. The announcement was announced and broadcast early today on “CBS This Morning.”
Rosproy grew up in Sumner County as Tabatha McMullen, graduating from Belle Plaine High School in 2005.
“Yes I did, go Dragons,” she said.
Selected from among 300 teacher nominees from throughout the country, Rosproy, is the first Kansas educator to win the National Teacher of the Year Award since Topeka High School math teacher, Marjorie French, was given the honor in 1962.
As a child, Rosproy loved school from the beginning. In first grade, she used to write in classroom journals about wanting to be a professional horseback rider. Just riding a horse in the meadow and getting paid for it.
While in high school, Rosproy took a dual high school/college class in Spanish. She would teach Spanish to the children in the school district’s preschool. Rosproy remembered the energy of the preschool teacher, Pat Walton.
“Just to watch her move around the class and teach kids was inspiring to me, and it was the first time I saw teaching as an art form,” Rosproy said.
Nowadays, people who have watched Rosproy work say similar things about her.
“She’s always a joyful soul,” Christina Jumper, a CNA at Cumbernauld Village in Winfield, said. “She’s very energetic and fun with kids. She’s high spirited and always has words of wisdom.”
Winfield Early Learning Center (WELC) is the only public preschool in Kansas to be located inside a retirement community, assisted living and nursing home facility that sits on 44 acres. Rosproy assisted the school district in developing the unique intergenerational program two years ago. The preschool is free to all 4-year-olds in the community.
“There is a kindergarten in a nursing home in Coffeyville, Kansas,” Rosproy said. “They’ve been in operation for 10 to 12 years, and they were good friends to us when we were working on developing our own program here.
Social emotional learning
The elderly residents at Cumbernauld Village are known as grandparents to the children. They garden, play Bingo and cornhole. When the residents are engaged in an activity, the children get involved and vice versa.
Some of the residents don’t have grandchildren living in the area or have grandchildren at all so the children of the preschool fill that role. Both the residents and the children benefit from the relationship, and among the residents, there has been increased activity and decreased depression, Rosproy said.
“They are sharing smiles and special moments and getting to identify with people at a different age,” Rosproy said. “For my kids, it builds empathy for people of different abilities and a different generation from them. For the residents in the nursing home, it really brings them a sense of joy and happiness and getting them in touch with childhood. Many of them have been given new purpose in their lives through this partnership.”
Rosproy believes empathy is something we need to learn and teach like any other skill.
“I don’t think empathy is something that is innate in us,” Rosproy said. “We have to realize when you’re little, when you’re 4-years-old, you are your whole world, you and your family. You really have to get kids thinking outside themselves and seeing how other people are feeling.”
Focusing on empathy instills “the idea that every person is worthy to be loved and respected,” Rosproy said.
Rosproy is a proponent of social emotional learning. Things like regulating emotions, interacting with peers in positive ways and solving problems. She believes these principles, taught in preschool, should be reinforced throughout one’s academic career and beyond.
“I think it takes an acknowledgement of the humanness in other people and it really ta
kes us having grace for ourselves and other people,” she said.
Schools play a pivotal role in society, Rosproy said, adding that not all learning has to take place between four walls.
“You can take your kids outside,” she said. “You can learn in hands-on ways. You don’t just have to be sitting at a desk or getting information delivered to you. Kids are ready to learn and ready to solve problems. We have to meet them where their interests are and where their needs are.”
One year into the partnership between Cumbernauld Village and the Winfield school district, the program has boasted the highest preschool literacy and math scores in the district.
“I never, in my 10 years of teaching, had all my students performing on grade level or above in phonetic ability,” Rosproy said.
Fifty percent of her students have at least one at-risk factor.
“This drastic change doesn’t happen because I learned a new technique,” Rosproy said. She attributes learning success to children feeling “well connected and loved.”
These past two months, Rosproy has had to connect with the children digitally and remotely, which she said was hard - “Nothing can replace the magic that happens at school” - but she maintained contact with her students through Zoom, both as a group and individually.
For the safety of vulnerable residents, the children and others, the preschool had to be shut down at Cumbernauld for the remainder of the school year.
The children and elderly residents have been bereft of each other’s companionship, but Rosproy did write messages on the windows of the facility. Parents took photographs of their children and their children’s drawings to the staff of Cumbernauld to hang inside as messages of encouragement.
The Winfield Early Childhood Learning Center will be back at Cumbernauld Village this fall.
Tanya Chancellor recalled taking her son, Brazy, now 15, to Little Builders, the lab preschool at Southwestern College where Rosproy taught, while attending college there.
“He actually still remembers Ms. Tabatha,” Chancellor said. “It was before she became a Mrs.”
Rosproy received her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a minor in English from Southwestern in 2009. Now she is close to completing her master’s degree in education, English as a secondary or other language, from Fort Hays State University.
Michelle Wellington, who has known Rosproy since they were in seventh grade together in Belle Plaine, said in the 15 years since they graduated from high school “it’s been incredible to watch her go on this journey. She’s always been a great person and you wanted good things to happen for her.”
“Tabatha is a treasure,” Chancellor said.