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Making a Difference: Tonia Whitaker

A Day in the Life

After every preschooler has arrived in the classrooms; after breakfast has been served, and after a little free play, it begins.

Every day at Temple Academy Learning Center in Louisville, the children settle down for teacher-led instruction in math, science, reading, and art. And many of the materials that enrich these young minds were developed and are provided by KET.

“We use much of the curriculum on a daily basis,” said center director Tonia Whitaker, a former substitute teacher and a mom of six who also leads the Christian education program at her church, where the center is located.

“We were looking for something that is extremely high-quality, extremely effective, and then cost-effective for us.”

Because of this, the enthusiastic new center director says that the materials and training provided by KET at no cost — such as Everyday Science for Preschoolers, Everyday Math, and Art to Heart — are a cornerstone of Temple Academy’s instruction.

“As a new director, I understood what I knew about early childhood; I had a lot of experience working with children. But one of the things I wanted to find out was what I didn’t know. I quickly found out it was more than just getting licensed,” she said.

So when Whitaker learned of the training KET offers to centers in Louisville’s West End through a childcare networking agency, she jumped at the chance to get her teachers trained and the curriculum in her center.

“I was flabbergasted by it,” she remembered. “First of all, by the high quality of the materials that we got and then the easiness of their use.”

Teachers at Temple Academy were excited about what they learned and about bringing it back to their classrooms, Whitaker said.

“When we got the staff trained, it was a real morale boost,” she said. “Sometimes you just get in a rut. The KET instructors were very inviting, very engaging, and very informative. And you walked away thinking, ‘Oh you know, I can do this!’”

And Whitaker said the center also finds the KET materials invaluable due to the ease with which newly hired teachers can be trained by other teachers.

“The curriculum is so portable,” she said. “When we hired a new teacher I was able to go through it with her myself and she was able to immediately use it and implement it in her classroom.”

And the little learners themselves?

Art to Heart really spurs their curiosity,” she said. “It’s a wonderful springboard for them — they start saying, ‘Oh I can do this! And how about this?’ And I think Everyday Science is the one that’s most enjoyable for both the children and the staff. Kids just naturally like learning, and they just love it.”

Key to Whitaker is that KET is helping her prepare students for the future.

“The KET resources have helped us with kindergarten readiness!” she exclaimed. “The materials support skills necessary for successful transitioning.”

Whitaker also believes the funding KET allocates toward early childhood education is vital for centers like hers all across Kentucky.

“Speaking on behalf of children — especially children in areas that may not have opportunities because of income — these materials and training have been so beneficial,” she said. “We need to be able to provide resources for our teachers who take care of the youngest and most vulnerable among us. That’s a huge return on your dollars.”