Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Sophia Dubreuil grew up in New York, the daughter of Haitian immigrants Antoine and Marie-Solange Dubreuil. In 1986 she accepted a full track scholarship to The University of Michigan, and graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. After graduation, she accepted a school-aged child care supervisor position with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. After several years in that position, she returned to school in 1996 in pursuit of an elementary teaching certificate at Eastern Michigan University while completing a second bachelor’s degree in social science and art.
She also went on to earn a master’s degree in early childhood education from EMU as part of her continuing commitment to children, fulfilling a childhood dream of doing “something” with youngsters!
Along her professional journey, Dubreuil has held many non-traditional teaching positions with AAPS: Tappan Teen Camp Director (seven years), Rec & Ed Evening Supervisor (two years), First Steps Parent Educator (three years) and Preschool Planning Teacher (two years).
In addition to her more than 20 years working at AAPS, Dubreuil is a lecturer at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Education’s Early Childhood Department. She says she feels honored to be able to impact so many lives through her relationships with AAPS children and their families, as well as by teaching and mentoring teachers-to-be, student teachers, assistants and new teachers.
Dubreuil has two children of her own. Daughter Alexis (Lexi) is a sophomore at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and son Jordan is a freshman at DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business in Chicago.
Dubreuil enjoys exercising, dancing, watching sports and spending time with family and friends.
What’s a typical workday like for you? The words typical and preschool do not go hand in hand in my classroom, thank goodness! It’s a blessing not to have a typical day because, although I have a planned schedule so the children can get to know and feel secure in daily routines, every day brings unanticipated discoveries and joys.
As a Head Start/Great Start Readiness Program teacher, my primary mission is to help our preschoolers be the best they can be, and to prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. Our program is research and play-based because early childhood research has shown effective play-based curriculum powerfully shapes brain development, cognitive skills, social skills, physically skills and emotional development. Through relevant, culturally responsive play experiences integrated in developmentally appropriate activities and lessons, the whole child—as well as the family—benefits. In addition to the core structure, daily lessons are adapted to the children’s interests, items and concerns children bring from home, shared stories, and life changing events that may occur with a child or guardian—or with teachers and the world outside of the classroom.
Embedding the children’s current experiences within their lessons builds trust and consistency, and exposure to new experiences stimulates their thirst for deeper understanding. Through years of experience, I’ve learned effective formulas for teaching life skills, risk taking and confidence building. Visit our classroom and you might see little chefs cooking, children participating in problem-solving role plays, gardeners digging soil with live worms in the sensory table, or up-and-coming scientists making “observations” and recording their findings on clipboards at the Discovery Center.
My typical day, every day in our classroom, focuses on supporting children to become healthy, productive little people in their too often non-typical worlds.
What inspired you to become a teacher? Working as a School Age Childcare Care supervisor at Allen Elementary School helped me realize my love for interacting with children and families. While there I discovered that teaching and connecting with children came naturally to me. Their curiosity and thirst for exploring their world has always intrigued me so why not learn with them! To teach is to learn. In addition to having my own “ah hah” moments, the teachers at Allen saw my potential and encouraged me to go back to school to pursue a teaching degree. Now I’m teaching teachers-to-be as well as the children (and grandchildren!) of the children who originally sparked my teaching career.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your first year of teaching?
- Classroom management is key; without it, children will not be able to learn. Children are able to learn when they feel safe, valued and engaged.
- Developing children’s social-emotional IQ is as important as developing their cognitive skills.
- It’s OK to take risks.
- Find mentors outside of traditional parameters. I ask questions and seek advice from peers I trust, collaborate with, and confide in. Being open and vulnerable with each other is a valuable part of our learning.
- Connect with all of the school staff—custodians, secretaries, lunch staff, etc. These people are the backbone of the school, my biggest allies. Together we are the children and families’ support team.
- It’s OK to become emotionally attached to my students. It means I care.
- I have to prioritize my to-do list. I can’t do it all. No one can. Ask: What’s critical?
- I set annual professional goals for myself. I love to keep learning.
- I reflect daily and carry the lesson with me not as criticisms, but as helpful insights.
- I’m involved in and attend school functions. I join committees within and outside of AAPS. They help me get to know and build positive rapport with my colleagues, and give me a better understanding of the community I serve.
- I try to be fully present in each moment. This helps me overcome my doubts and gives me opportunities to celebrate the children and myself.
Are there misconceptions about being a preschool teacher? Absolutely. A huge misconception about being a preschool teacher is that we are not real teachers but simply glorified babysitters. Public school preschool teachers are certified teachers. I am Elementary and Early Childhood certified by the Michigan Department of Education. Like other K-12 certified teachers, preschool teachers must follow state standards, write lesson plans, teach academic and social skills, conduct parent conferences, collect data, and collaborate with ancillary staff to maximize learning for each child. Specifically as a preschool teacher for Head Start and GSRP, I also conduct family education through home visits, attend monthly family events and advocate for the children and their families. Sometimes I’m co-mom, confidant, auntie, social worker and reality checker. The mission of Head Start is to “provide health, education, and promote self-sufficiency for children and families facing adversity.” Our model at the preschool helps support the whole child, including their families and communities. Being a preschool teacher at AAPS is being a real teacher, plus much more.
What don’t people know about the Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center? The preschool program has been a part of AAPS for more than 25 years. The preschool is home to many programs and age groups, including First Steps, Early On, Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE), Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), and Head Start. The school is a comprehensive early childhood center that services families and children from birth through age 5. The preschool serves an average of 350 children from diverse backgrounds and maintains a staff team of approximately 100 members. On any given day there may be families from 15 countries speaking 25 different languages in the building. We are NAEYC (National Association for the Education of the Young Child) accredited and take pride in maintaining a program of excellence.
How do you stay organized? I’m old school. I still use a planner. If I write it down, it will get done. I find extreme pleasure in crossing things off of my “to do list.” I also use post-its a lot, and add reminders regarding meeting and deadline dates in my iPhone calendar.
What is the highlight of your day? Every moment I see children engaged, learning how “to do” school and navigate their sometimes complicated lives are highlights. I often review these highlights on my drive home at the end of each day, reflecting and gaining insight about what makes my classroom tick. Finding things to be proud of inspires me and prepares me for the next day. There are always things to celebrate! From being on the same page as my paraprofessional and completing each others sentences, to witnessing “light bulb” moments of the children, and assisting families achieve personal goals, it all rejuvenates me. I also get a lift from recounting the children’s spontaneous responses to lessons, finding marbles in my pocket, play dough under my shoes, wilted flowers left behind my ear, and paint under my nails. Noticing these reminders of each child and thinking about the difference we make in their lives are the highlights of every day.
What was always written on your report card in grade school? “She’s a hard worker, she loves learning, and enjoys helping others.”
What would you tell a college student considering becoming a teacher? Go for it! Disregard the chatter you hear about the state of education, and pursue your passion. It takes a special person to become a teacher. If it’s in your heart, do it! Our children deserve teachers who want to help them succeed and are happy to support them.
What’s most exciting about your personal life right now? Watching my children grow into adulthood and preparing for the next phases of my life. With the option of retiring in three years, it’s exciting to think about the many different paths I might take.