Compiled and edited by Natalee Huguez and Vicki Louk Balint | November 17, 2017
Arizona State University senior Natalee Huguez is no stranger to a scholarship award. At the AzAEYC Annual Meeting this year, she was selected as the Rhian Evans Allvin and Joshua J. Allen Scholarship awardee for 2017. She’s also a scholar in the Early Childhood Education (ECSE) program at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
Natalee talks about why she decided to study early childhood education, what she loves most about working in the classroom, and her plans for the future after graduation this spring.
How did you become interested in the field of education?
During my years at McClintock High School in Tempe, I began working at the Kid Zone and Enrichment Program, a before and after school program for students within the Kyrene School District. The first school where I worked was a kindergarten through middle school. I worked with the younger children. Next, I actually worked at the middle school that I had attended. After high school graduation I was promoted to assistant manager. I gained a lot of experience, planning activities and I thought, I am obviously good at this, I found my niche. It was a really positive experience. No casualties!
Why do you enjoy working with younger students in particular?
Personally, I have a lot of energy. And I like to have a lot of fun — and that’s what kids are! I like to see what they get excited about and enjoy observing what makes them laugh so easily. It’s gratifying to see them enjoy activities that we plan.
You decided to attend Arizona State University. Talk about that decision-making process.
I decided to go to ASU because I was offered a scholarship. Then I had to pick a major. I thought, I’m working with kids right now, and that seems to be working for me. I originally went in to Elementary Ed and Special Education as a double major. Then I learned that the scope the Early Childhood major was birth through third grade. I wanted to work with the little ones! So I changed my major to Early Childhood Education and Special Ed.
How did you find out about the Rhian Evans Allvin and Joshua J. Allen Scholarship Award?
At ASU, I am a scholar in the ASU Early Childhood Education Special Education (ECSE) Scholars Program. The director of ECSE, Wendy Oakes, who is also an assistant professor, passed on the information about the scholarship award to me and some of my fellow other scholars. She encouraged us to apply.
When did you learn that you were selected to receive the scholarship award?
Eric Bucher, who served on the AzAEYC Board and was my contact for the application process, called and told me the good news. I called my parents (Paula Cutrufo and Abel Huguez, shown in photo above) after Eric called me. They were both very excited and really proud! They attended the Annual Meeting and Eric actually read Professor Oakes’ recommendation letter out loud to the audience. It was really nice to hear those words again and reaffirm why I earned the award. My mom had read it but my dad hadn’t, and he was teary-eyed. They also enjoyed seeing the larger organizations that I am involved with, what I am learning and what interests me.
Talk about some of your experience in the classroom so far. What have you learned?
In my program, during Junior year, students spend one semester working in an early childhood preschool setting and one semester in an early childhood Special Ed setting. The first semester, I worked at The Hills School in the Arcadia area in Phoenix. They offer a Reggio Emilia inspired program. I had never heard of Reggio Emilia — it was new to me and great to experience, so unique. The next semester, I worked in an English as a Second Language (ESL) room with 3-5 year olds. I had taken some Spanish, but not much. Together, we were trying to speak to each other and it made them laugh — as I was trying out some Spanish, they were learning English. It was so interesting, observing how they learn a new language.
As a senior this year, you are working within your student teaching placement. How is that going?
We work one semester in an early childhood setting and one semester in Special Ed. Right now, I’m placed in a second grade classroom in the Paradise Valley school district. I have 15 second graders. It is a Title One school.
What do you like about teaching in a Title One school?
I connect with those families and the kids. Many aren’t entering academically at a second grade level but all of the parents are willing to work and help their kids get to that level.
There are more successes and excitement and definitely more progress. We are working to close those gaps. My mentor teacher points out the growth during parent teacher conferences. Working with her has been a very positive experience.
And next semester?
We will switch to Special Ed classrooms. I really connected with 3 kids from first and second grade autism room, and also the aide. I hope to stay with the teachers (at the school where I am now) so don’t have to leave and start over. I hope to teach Special Ed in first and second grade. I’m really looking forward to that.
You’re a member of AzAEYC/NAEYC. Describe a benefit that stands out for you.
In thinking about membership, the AzAEYC Annual Meeting comes to mind, and that a big goal of AzAEYC is to create positive experiences not only for young children but also for teachers. For example, during Cellissa Hoyt’s presentation I saw how her organization is working hard to provide support for early childhood teachers and the profession through the Shared Services model and AZToolkit. It was super cool. Ultimately, if your teachers and your directors are having a positive experience, your kids will have a positive experience.
What are your future plans?
I think I will go in to Special Ed. Then, my five-year plan is to get my masters in marriage and family counseling. I ultimately want to be a therapist for families who have a child with disabilities. Those families struggle with extra stress on a marriage and within sibling relationships. No couple expects to have a child with a disability. No one prepares for that. I want to help those families go through the process and help families give all of their kids the best experience possible.
In her spare time, Natalee enjoys the outdoors- especially camping, rock climbing and kayaking in Northern Arizona. She says her dad taught her to fish “pretty much before I could even walk.” She loves spending time with friends, making more connections and meeting people.
Interested in applying for the Rhian Evans Allvin and Joshua J. Allen Scholarship? Learn more.