Deanna Peterson was 8 years old when her identical twin brothers were born. When they were diagnosed with autism, she pitched in and helped them as they grew up.
"Everyone said, 'You should be a teacher when you grow up.' I said, 'No, thank you.' 'Then you should go into special education. You're so good with them.' I said, 'No, thank you,'" Peterson recalled.
Over time, she changed her mind and decided to go the teaching route. While earning a bachelor's degree at Eastern Washington University, she added special education to her degree plan.
"I decided to do a dual endorsement, thinking it would be easier to get a job as a teacher," Peterson said. "When I did my practicums for my special education, it was like, 'I am way more comfortable in here. I have been teaching kids with autism for 15 years.'"
Now, Peterson is enrolled in the Master of Education – Early Childhood Education online program at EWU. She is on-track to graduate in June 2020.
"I had been looking for a master's program I could do online for a long time because I work full time as a teacher," she said. "I think I was listening to the radio and heard that Eastern is doing an online program. I said, 'That's it!'
"I had never done online classes, so I was kind of apprehensive. I wrapped my head around it and figured out the game plan. It's fast-paced with six-week courses, but I feel like I learn a lot in six weeks."
Peterson is in her 12th year as a developmental preschool teacher at Central Valley School District in the Spokane area. She is excited to be back at EWU for a graduate degree.
"If I am going to spend that much money on a degree, I want it to be from somewhere I know,'" she said. "I have friends who have done the other online programs, and they say, 'It's so easy.' I want something that felt like it had more value to me than jumping through a hoop."
The information Peterson is learning in the program is immediately applicable to her job.
"I work with a lot of people who have a bachelor's degree, but they don't necessarily have an early childhood bachelor's degree, so we do a lot of coaching in our building because we are all early childhood," she said. "So, I am able to apply what I learn in the program to pretty much anything I am doing at work."
Peterson grew up near Chewelah, Washington, and worked as a volunteer at Lakeland Village, a state-operated Developmental Disabilities Administration facility, while earning a bachelor's degree.
That's also where she met her husband, James, a special education teacher at Otis Orchards Elementary in the East Valley School District and an EWU alumnus. After Peterson graduated with her bachelor's degree and a 3.9 GPA in 2005, she started her career as a special education resource room teacher.
"I knew I was going to be teaching, but I thought it would be teaching general education," she said. "I didn't think I would go down the special education road. Eastern is a really good fit for teaching."
The online format for the M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education program helps Peterson balance a busy job and her home life with her husband and their sons, Matthew (11) and Thomas (5).
"It's been pretty manageable with taking one course at a time," she said. "I did two courses my first session. I wanted to get everything done and do my best, but it was too much to do two classes.
"My husband cooks and is super supportive... That's why I dialed it back. It was a little more doable."
The flexibility of the program helps Peterson manage her schedule, which often includes bringing work home from her job.
"I have six Individual Education Program plans due this coming month, which is half of my case load, so I work on those beyond my work day," she said. "If I have to work on those, I can do the homework I would have done on Thursday night on Saturday. It's tremendous."
Right at Home
Although Peterson believes having an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education would give her a big advantage in finding a job, she has no plans to change what she is doing.
"There will come a point when these little guys are going to put my back out," she said. "It's a physical job, but so far, I am able to keep up with them. Maybe I will go into elementary school. I have done preschool for 12 years, but I did elementary before. Right now, I am really happy at our early learning center."
With graduation on the horizon, Peterson said her family and friends are excited to see her finish the degree program.
"I have been talking about doing it for a long time," she said. "My sister is a doctor. She went to the University of Washington and is seven years younger than me. She was always saying, 'When are you going to do it?' I said, 'Okay, fine, I'll do it.' I imagine my husband will make me walk at graduation since I made him walk."
Although Peterson took some extra time to return to college before hearing about the early childhood program, she believes earning another degree from EWU was worth the wait.
"It's not easy," she said. "It's a little more rigorous than other programs. There's a higher standard. There's a lot of reading and writing, but it's worth it – especially at that price point. I am going to be proud to say I went to Eastern for my master's degree."Learn more about the EWU M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education online program.
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