Walking down the halls of United Hebrew’s Saul Spielberg Early Childhood Center, colorful bulletin boards displaying vibrant artwork line the walls. The sound of laughing toddlers echoes from classroom to classroom. At the turn of a corner appears a door that leads to endless shelves of books, bins of plastic toys and, most importantly, a compassionate, kindhearted teacher.
Paige Rubin, a senior at Parkway Central High School and member of United Hebrew Congregation, has made her mark as one of the youngest, full-time educators at the Spielberg ECC.
At the young age of 15, she was given the opportunity to discover what would soon develop into possibly a lifelong career.
“I’ve wanted to work with kids my whole life, but no one would let me because I was never old enough,” Rubin, 18, said. “I eventually met with (the director of Spielberg EEC) and she assigned me to the 3-year-olds. I started part-time in the summer, she invited me back for the school year and it just kept going.”
Lauren Lourie, director of early childhood engagement at Spielberg ECC, has offered teens in the community an opportunity to become a summer camp counselor, which Rubin had enjoyed doing for several years. But with Rubin, Lourie also saw someone who could take on a larger role year-round.
“My first impression of Paige was that she was an enthusiastic teenager who already knew what she wanted her career path to be,” Lourie said. “[She] was determined to begin and establish relationships with young children and their families.”
Rubin’s determination truly paid off as she was able to establish strong bonds between herself and the students in her classrooms. By building these connections, Rubin has had a pivotal impact on the many young children she has taught.
“Paige is always there for our students,” Lourie said. “If a student comes in sad, Paige is able to cheer them up. If a student needs help, Paige is there. She has the uncanny ability to make connections with all students and understand their unique needs.”
As the director of the Spielberg ECC and a parent of children in the program, Lourie has observed the effects of Rubin’s teaching through different lenses.
“Paige recently took the initiative in her class to show parents how much their children have grown with comparison photos from the beginning to the end of 2020,” Lourie said. “As a parent with a student in her class, it is something that put a smile on my face because not only did I see the physical changes in my child, but I’ve also seen the developmental changes that Paige has helped facilitate.”
Rubin has had a substantial impact on both the physical and mental growth of her students; however, she has also gained a lot of knowledge about herself. While working at the ECC, Rubin continues to develop her skills as an educator.
“I feel like I have grown up a lot,” Rubin said. “I have learned how to work with parents and kids in a lot of different age groups. There was also setting up classrooms, parent teacher conferences, meeting the teacher and professional development days that I had never done before until this year.”
As a result of the pandemic, many exciting opportunities and experiences were abruptly cancelled. However, these disheartening circumstances instead created an opportunity for Rubin. Because of the highly altered online school schedule, Rubin now had time to complete her high school education virtually and graduate a semester early, all while caring for a classroom of year-old infants.
“COVID does make teaching difficult because the kids cannot see your face,” Rubin said. “They ask when the pandemic is going to be over and it is confusing. But it is the only reason I am working full time, so I try to keep that in my mind along with my patience.”
Despite the difficulties that come with teaching during a pandemic, the joy and utter happiness the children exude each day make the struggles ultimately worthwhile.
“The kids just make me so happy,” Rubin said. “They learn so much at this age. Every single day they come in with a new word, a new sound, a new something. They smile and are happy, and I can’t not walk in with a smile on my face every day.”
The children’s effervescent disposition has truly had a significant impact on Rubin and her future.
“I have known for a long time that teaching is what I want to do,” Rubin said. “Working full time has by far been the best experience I have had. Working with an amazing co-teacher and my favorite age has been a blast. I feel so incredibly lucky that I have found what I love to do.”
Rubin’s plans include attending a local community college through the A+ Scholarship Program, which offers qualifying high school students two years of paid tuition to Missouri community colleges. Additionally, she hopes to continue working at the Saul Spielberg ECC while majoring in early childhood education and special education.