Cynthia Minakawa '09
- Graduated from the Child Development program in December 2009
- Earned her undergraduate degree from Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois
In what field did you work prior to coming to SLC to study Child Development?
Teaching. I was an assistant teacher at a private preschool on the Upper West Side.
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school? Why Child Development?
I chose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school because I believed in the learning/teaching philosophy at SLC. It is different from many other academic institutions because there is such a strong focus on students learning how to learn, not what to learn. I felt an education at SLC would provide me the opportunity to grow academically, and also as an individual.
How did your course work prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
My course work has been further enhanced and validated through my fieldwork. The fieldwork I did for Child Development at SLC gave me the opportunity to put into practice the theory we learned in class.
Describe your experience working at the Early Childhood Center and Child Development Institute.
My work at the ECC has been a wonderful learning opportunity. The teacher I was with, Sonna, gave me the opportunity to truly observe the children and understand them. She was also always available to answer any questions that I had, and was always ready to engage in discussions with me regarding anything ranging from events in the classroom, individual children, to questions about the relationship between my coursework and the classroom. Through my experience at the ECC, I have learned about not only how the children learn and understand material, but also about how I learn and relate to the world.
Where were your fieldwork assignments? What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, which have aided you in your professional life?
My fieldwork took place in the ECC. The greatest thing that I have taken away from the ECC is the ability to better understand myself as a learner. In doing so, I have been given a new lens with which to see the way other people learn and relate to the world. I have taken this newly acquired skill and implemented it, not only in the classroom, but also in other environments that I am in. I also spent about 150 hours volunteering in the Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis, interacting with children of all backgrounds with an array of conditions.
What was the focus of your MA thesis?
My thesis focused on the Child Life profession and how Child Life specialists provide care to people from different cultural backgrounds. This stemmed from a curiosity that I had regarding the cultural competency of health care when dealing with child patients.
Do you intend to pursue another degree or explore certification options?
I am currently pursuing my second master’s at SLC in the Art of Teaching. During most of my time in the CD program I was very interested in culture and child/adolescent health. Towards the end of my time in the CD program at SLC, I realized I had a true desire to know more about how to make materials relatable to each individual. After watching Sonna for two years, I became very aware of the way she uses emergent curriculum in her class. The children’s interests guide the creation of a curriculum, material is presented so that there are multiple entry points. This allows each child to learn in the way he/she learns best, and ensures that every child in the class has a sense of mastery over the material. I feel the studies of Child Development and the Art of Teaching go hand-in-hand. I have decided to pursue a second degree in the Art of Teaching because I want to know more about how children learn and relate to the world. These two areas of study overlap but also have their differences. I feel being knowledgeable in both of these areas will allow me to better work with children, no matter what field I choose to go into.
What advice can you offer to people who are considering pursuing a career in fields related to Child Development?
As a society, we have a tendency to label children as a way of describing them. I would advise anyone who works with children to practice being able to truly “see” a child. To be able to see a child, one must commit to observing the child, spending time with the child, numerous times, in a variety of settings/environments. It is imperative to learn how to see a child, to be able to describe a child, without imposing definitions or labels, which inevitably shape the way one views or understands a child.
Do you have any anecdotes or stories you would like to share that highlight your SLC experience?
Before coming to SLC, I received a very traditional education. Upon arriving at SLC, I realized that I had spent much of my academic career not learning how to learn, but what to learn. When I wrote my first paper for my first class here, I was ridden with anxiety. The assignment was to write about a topic that was relevant to the class, and nothing more. I tried to ask my teacher for more specific instructions, but I just couldn’t get anything out of him. How many resources did he want, how many pages, could he give me a choice of topics? Instead, he wanted me to write about something from the class work that had captivated me, to ask a question, and to find an answer for it. It was a seemingly simple task that really put me in a tailspin. The week after I turned it in, I flew into conference and blurted out, “How was my paper? Was it okay? I just want to make sure that I did a good job.” To this, my professor responded, “Did you learn anything?” I was confused by his question, but answered, “yes,” that I had indeed learned something. He looked at me and said, “Then it was more than okay, and yes, you did do a good job.” I walked out of there and pondered our interaction for a week. I often revisit this conversation. This was my introduction to emergent curriculum, to true learning. Two years after this conversation, I had a similar conversation with my thesis advisor, Linwood Lewis. As much as I have learned and immersed myself in the academic program at SLC, I often struggle to let go of my old academic habits and expectations. He has demonstrated to me the true art of teaching. He has shown me that good teaching is about guiding, not instructing. Both he and Barbara Schecter have shown me that true learning happens when the whole person is involved. This is very similar to the ECC philosophy of looking at the whole child, not just a part of the child. SLC has given me the opportunity to understand what it means to learn, and most important, how to learn. My education here has been, above all, empowering, and has taught me what it is to truly be responsible for my education.
What do you consider the strongest attribute of the Child Development program?
One of the strongest attributes of the CD program is the way in which the program is structured so that students are given the opportunity to combine theory and practice. The required ECC fieldwork provides the students with an environment where they are able to take class readings and discussions and understand how the theory is carried out in practice. Another major attribute of the program is the way the teachers are invested in the students’ works. Because faculty members and students work so closely together at SLC, students are given the opportunity to discover what it is that truly interests them about CD and further study it, while having the full support and guidance of the professors.
Who at SLC would you consider your role model, or who would you consider most inspirational, and why?
It is impossible for me to narrow this answer down to just one person, but I must mention Barbara Schecter and Linwood Lewis from the CD program. Both Barbara and Linwood have guided and supported me during my time here. This program has not only taught me about child development but about myself, and that has given me the opportunity to become more aware and understanding of my surroundings. This has also enhanced the way I am able to interact with and understand children. They have demonstrated to me, through our interactions, what it truly means to teach and what it truly means to learn. They have shown me that learning is continually present and always developing; and have been patient and supportive while allowing me to renegotiate my understanding of what it means to learn. Coming from a traditional academic setting, I was always waiting for someone to tell me what to do; I was always doing my work by someone else’s standards and expectations. While I was always told that my ideas and contributions in class were important, they were only important if they fit into a specific way of thought or understanding that was deemed acceptable in that class. Barbara and Linwood have demonstrated to me what it means to truly value everyone’s ideas and contributions, and the importance of learning by negotiating and renegotiating different viewpoints as well as my own thoughts.
How have you stayed connected with SLC, and why?
I am still at SLC!
What is your most special memory of the time you spent at Sarah Lawrence?
My most treasured memories at SLC are all vastly different, yet the same. I have enjoyed watching my fellow students in the CD program, other students of the college (grads and undergrads), and children at the ECC pursue the learning of a subject that they are either mildly curious or truly passionate about. I have enjoyed watching curiosities evolve into theses and classroom projects, the process of watching someone question and learn. Most of all, I have enjoyed the ways in which students have shared their works with me: grad students presenting their theses, music workshops, and children’s projects. The experience of being part of someone else’s learning endeavor is a true gift.