Suffern Pre-School Teacher Receives Prestigious Award for Innovative Music Program

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

Justyna Zakrzewska
Justyna Zakrzewska

Justyna Zakrzewska, a teacher at the Campus Fun and Learn Child Development Center located on the Rockland Community College campus, has been selected to receive a $1,000 National Child Care Teacher award in recognition of her innovative approach to early childhood education through the integrated use of music in the toddler classroom. She will attend a ceremony in Philadelphia on April 3 to accept the award from the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation (TLLCCF) and McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

“She is an amazing teacher,” says Center interim Director Jenn Kaywork, “and we are all so proud of her.”

Zakrzewska (pronounced Za-kres-ska) originally hails from Poland, where she earned her Masters Degree in economics. She came to the United States as a student seeking to improve her English language skills, but while enrolled at RCC, she decided to take some early childhood education classes as well. Before long she discovered her true passion, and eventually received her degree and certification from RCC. She did her field work at the Center, and since 2009 has worked there full time as a teacher in the toddler room.

After spending several years in the toddler room, Zakrzewska noticed the intense interest in music that the children expressed. They loved to move, dance and sing and they also loved to participate in making the music themselves with whatever instruments they had. Inspired by their response, she decided to deepen the experience and launched her “Music Experience in the Toddler Classroom” project.

With the Center’s full support, she installed a mini-stage in the classroom, complete with curtain, lights and child sized microphone, where her charges could create and perform music for themselves and others. She began to incorporate music from cultures as diverse as Chinese, Indian and African, as well as introduce the children to different genres such as blues, jazz, and classical.

Interestingly, Zakrzewska does not have a musical background herself, but she is thrilled with the results of her project so far.

“Music is what brings kids joy, what they want to learn and explore,” she says. “This program builds on that and will provide a great learning experience for our kids now and for the future.”

She intends to use her award money to purchase additional musical instruments for the class, such as a Chinese rattle drum and an African percussion drum, as well as maracas and bells. She also plans to add to the Center’s musical CD collection; currently, she gets most of the CDs she uses out of the library. Additionally, she will purchase multicultural costumes for the children to “dress up” in as they play and perform music from those cultures.

Kaywork explains that the Campus Fun and Learn Center is a “lab school,” where curriculum is developed with a focus on the needs of the “whole child” physically, intellectually, and socially. The entire staff is trained to observe and explore the interests demonstrated by the children in their classrooms, out of which grow the ideas for programs and projects.

The TLLCCF was founded by Kay and Fred Lokoff in memory of their daughter, Terri Lynne, a devoted child care teacher who sadly died in a car accident. Through the Foundation they hope to continue their daughter’s legacy of commitment to excellence in early childhood education. The TLLCCF selects only one teacher from each state every year to receive its National Child Care Teacher Award. For the past 14 years, the award has been co-sponsored by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the makers of Children’s Tylenol.

Zakrzewska is grateful for the recognition, and happy that she found a home in Rockland.

“I have so many friends here, and there are so many opportunities for me right here at RCC to continue my education,” she explains.

She plans to continue to work in the field of early childhood education, and is already collecting more ideas for her next project at the Center.

“Not only is RCC is a great resource for our community, it’s also a great location for our Center. Our kids get to explore and have fun in a unique and special environment.”

The Campus Fun and Learn Child Development Center is a separate nonprofit affiliated with the College since the 1970s. It accommodates children from six weeks to 5-years-old. To learn more, visit the website at www.campusfunandlearn.org.