A Family Tradition Amidst 50 Years of Early Education Excellence

When she was a preschool student at MSUM Early Education Center, Jill Mayer once drew a picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Her response: a teacher.

But it wasn’t until years later – when the now-MSUM student started working part-time as a teacher’s aide at the preschool she attended – that she realized she also might follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Mayer’s mother, Gail Maahs worked at EEC for more than 20 years, most of those years as a teacher of toddlers. “I always knew I wanted to work with children,” Maahs says. “It’s fun to watch them grow and learn.”

Maahs started at what is now the EEC when she was a work study student in 1982. At the time, MSUM didn’t offer an early childhood education degree, but Dorothy Dodds was Maahs’ advisor. Dodds was a pioneer in early childhood education in Minnesota; one of Moorhead’s elementary schools is named in her honor.

Dodds’ enthusiasm for educating the youngest of children inspired Maahs to step into the field.

Maahs enjoyed helping toddlers discover the world and encouraging their parents. Her colleagues quickly became lifelong friends. And, she also welcomed her own children into her classroom. Mayer still treasures a photo book given to her when she graduated from EEC to kindergarten.

“The center has been a huge part of our family experiences,” Maahs says. As has MSUM. Three Maahs children worked at the center while they were students at MSUM.

Maahs left the EEC in 2005 when the family moved. When they returned to the region a few years ago, she began to fill in occasionally as a substitute teacher.

But the seed had already been planted. Jill grew up watching her mother’s impact on children, and the impact those youngsters and the early childhood field had on her.

“I saw how much joy she had planning and creating lessons and activities,” Mayer says. “That was a huge part of why I went into the field.”

Mayer thought that she would study elementary education, but she quickly turned to a major in early childhood education. She enjoyed the freedom and creativity that came along with working with the preschool set.

She graduated in December 2020 and worked as a substitute teacher at the EEC until she was offered a fulltime position in August 2021, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the MSUM Early Education Center. She is now a preschool teacher for 4- and 5-year-olds.

“I’m excited to use my creativity and to incorporate all the things I’ve learned at MSUM,” she says.

She also started her career with her mother nearby. Maahs is filling a long-term substitute position throughout the fall.

Maahs says that Mayer will be an excellent teacher. Mayer is creative, loving and attentive. She’s a planner who is flexible and intentional about building relationships with kids and their families.

She will also be well-supplied. Maahs passed along 20 boxes filled with teaching supplies, including flannel boards for storytelling and props for dramatic play units.

“Frankly, I don’t know who is more excited,” Maahs says. “To work together, to be able to sit and collaborate, that’s a gift.”

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This September, Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Early Education Center celebrates 50 years of service to Moorhead and the surrounding community, as a Minnesota 4-star Parent Award rated center and one of only eight NAEYC-accrediated (National Association for the Education of Young Children) preschool programs in Fargo-Moorhead.

“Celebrating 50 years of quality care is a milestone that has been reached by just a handful of centers in our community,” says Lacey Hoppe, director. “We are excited to serve countless children over the years and be a valued part of the Moorhead-Fargo community.”

 

Serving children ages 16 months to five years old, families have the unique opportunity to gain fresh ideas from MSUM practicum students and student teachers who are beginning their careers in early childhood education.

 

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