April Westermann needed an easy class to take during her junior year of high school. Instead, she found a career.
"I took an elective that was a child development class," she said. "Three days a week, three-, four- and five-year-olds came to the class, and we worked with them for a couple of hours. We spent the other two days of class learning about childhood development. I've been in early learning ever since. It's been 17 years."
Westermann graduated from Eastern Washington University with a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education in 2015. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Children's Studies from EWU.
"I got an associate degree in early childhood education and thought I was done," she said. "I didn't go back for six years to get my bachelor's. I wasn't planning on getting my master's, but with the profession that I am in, the more education that you have, the better you get paid, the higher you go up in the field and the more opportunities you have, in general. Toward the end of my bachelor's degree, I knew for sure I wanted to do my master's."
Westermann is an early childhood specialist for the Office of Head Start Region X. She has a home office and travels throughout the region, which consists of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Westermann is also an early childhood education online adjunct professor at Spokane Falls Community College, her first college alma mater.
"I was definitely hired because of my master's degree," she said. "I don't think they would have looked at me if I just had my bachelor's degree. I have a lot of versatile experience in my field, but they pulled out my application because of the master's degree. I so love my job."
Before she returned to higher education, Westermann worked as a preschool teacher, a program coordinator for a large nonprofit organization and a director of childcare. She and her husband, Matt, have two children, Ivy (10) and Ruby (6).
"I needed a program I could do online or one where I would not have to go to campus very often," she said. "My undergrad was almost all online. The master's program was a couple of nights a week and some online. It was a good fit because I work full time, I travel a lot, and I have little kids. It was flexible."
Westermann benefited greatly from tying in her real-world experience with the M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education program curriculum.
"The professors knew I worked full time," she said. "I had a ton of experience in the field, so they were flexible about using the professional development I was gaining in the field to go with the classes I was taking. Because of that, I was able to write my own education and how my classes would go. I appreciated that flexibility."
That also proved invaluable for Westermann as she progressed through her career.
"My real-world experience on top of my education has given me a lot of good opportunities," Westermann said. "When I see people who don't have a lot of real-world experience and are fresh out of college, they are not able to make as big of an impact as quickly as if they had the real-world experience on top of their education."
Her favorite course in the master's program was Historical, Philosophical and Social Foundations of Education, but her all-time favorite course was Inequalities and Impacts on Educational Equality in the bachelor's program.
"It was all about diversity and working with children and their families," Westermann said of the latter course. "We learned about working with not only the different cultures and colors of skin but also with families who are LGBTQ, grandparents, fosters and different religions."
Given to Fly
Westermann got a lot of help and support from her husband while she earned her degrees. In fact, she may not have finished the master's degree program without her husband's encouragement.
"I had just had my second baby in the middle of my master's," she said, "I took three months off and was scheduled to go back. I was sitting with Ruby in my lap with the computer next to me getting ready to register for classes. I did not want to hit the register button.
"I remember Matt saying, 'You will regret it if you don't. You should register and go to class.' So, I did. I wouldn't have finished if he hadn't encouraged me to do that. He is super supportive."
Another benefit to the master's degree is that Westermann has raised the bar for higher education with her daughters.
"We talk about it all of the time," she said. "When we talk about them being in school, I tell them, 'I wouldn't have this really cool job if I didn't have my degree.' The girls are really proud of me working with kids. They tell people that I am a teacher. They know."
Westermann is also the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree.
"They're proud of me," she said. "I'm also the only one in my family with a career. My parents have jobs, my sister has a job. This is my career and my passion."
Additionally, Westermann inspired a former coworker to enroll in the M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education program at EWU.
"She started her master's because she saw I could do it with kids, work and school," she said. "I encourage people to just do it. They will be happy, and they will see how much further they get in their career.
"Having a master's degree will impact the lives of children and families more than they will realize. Plus, they'll just be better employees. It's probably one of the best things I have ever done. I wouldn't be where I am without my master's degree."
Learn about the EWU online M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education program.
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