With her red pen in hand and a chalkboard in front of her, Allison Patrick started class.
She gathered a few of her stuffed animals –– a pig, a bear and a few rabbits –– sat them at a table in the family’s playroom, and went looking for her younger brother, Carter. When she found him, she asked, “Do you want to play school?”
Patrick became a teacher. She was just five.
Her kindergarten teacher, Devon Freeman, influenced her. By second grade, she wrote a paper and pronounced she wanted to be a teacher because she loved school and liked helping people.
She has gotten her wish.
Patrick, a senior from Morgantown, West Virginia, will graduate in May with a degree in elementary education and a minor in mathematics from High Point University after spending the past three years observing and teaching in five different area schools.
She bonded with students and became a mentor to more than a few. Immediately after graduation, she’ll start HPU’s one-year master’s degree program in elementary education with a concentration in science, technology, engineering and math, better known as STEM.
When she begins, she’ll carry with her the distinction of being selected as an HPU Extraordinary Leader.
Patrick, a Presidential Scholar and member of HPU’s Honor Scholar Program, is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of February.
How she earned the award starts with Room 266.
The Big Moment
Patrick was already impressed with what opportunities HPU offers its education majors. In their freshman and sophomore years, they get to observe teachers in local schools. By their junior year, they can begin taking on more responsibilities in the classroom. That includes some teaching.
During her other campus visits, Patrick hadn’t heard that. Other universities don’t have education majors entering a classroom until their junior year. She liked that HPU would start her early.
Then came Room 266.
The room inside the Stout School of Education looks like an elementary school classroom. When Patrick walked in, she immediately got excited. She knew HPU was exactly what she was looking for in a university –– a place to help make her playroom dream real.
“This is it,” Patrick said to her mom, Maria, a nurse educator at WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital. “This is where I want to come.”
She had visited two other schools, including West Virginia University, a 10-minute drive from her house. But she chose HPU, a five-hour drive away, because she saw the potential of what she could become.
‘Ms. Patrick Believes in Me!’
Her name was Iman. She was a second grader at High Point’s Fairview Elementary, and Patrick worked with her one-on-one during Patrick’s junior year.
Patrick saw her once a week and helped her with writing and reading comprehension. Iman told Patrick she didn’t like to write. By the end of the year, though, Iman didn’t mind writing at all. She even liked it.
Since October, Patrick has worked with a second grader at Jamestown Elementary, a school 10 minutes from campus. The second grader, a boy, didn’t like math. Someone told him he couldn’t do math. So, Patrick began working with him online.
At first, he’d look down, look away or thrust his hands by his side in frustration and say, “I can’t do it!” Like other students at Jamestown Elementary, he was attending school online because of the global pandemic.
Patrick continued to work with him twice a week, encouraging him and writing on his math worksheets, “I know you can do it!”
By November, when he and other students returned to school, Patrick started seeing him in person. When she did, his demeanor slowly changed. Within weeks, he was looking straight at Patrick, excited. He was getting the math problems right.
“I got them all right because Ms. Patrick believes in me!” he exclaimed in February.
Patrick teared up.
“Moments like that make me so happy,” she says. “It makes me a better teacher. These kids might have people against them, but I am not going to be that person. I want to show them that as long as they work hard, they can do it.”
In high school, Patrick taught Sunday School for pre-K students at her church, St. John University Parish. There, she met a four-year-old named Phoenix. She taught him for two years. During one class, Phoenix drew two stick figures in a heart, and Patrick asked who they were.
“This is you and me hanging out,” Phoenix said.
“Why did you draw that?” Patrick asked.
“Because I love you,” Phoenix responded.
The Value of Research
Dr. Sarah Vess, the associate dean of the Stout School of Education, saw Patrick sitting in the school’s lobby. Vess remembered her from a recent comment she made during a discussion of new course options for HPU’s Honors Scholar Program.
So, Dr. Vess stopped.
“Allison, I remember you mentioning that you wanted to do research,” Dr. Vess said to Patrick.
“Yes,” Patrick responded. “I’d love to help out.”
Patrick became Dr. Vess’ research assistant the spring semester of her sophomore year. They worked on a paper about what’s known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for families with children with autism.
She presented her research at High-PURCS, the well-known campus acronym for HPU’s Research and Creativity Symposium. Earlier last year, she was accepted to present at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Montana.
The conference was cancelled because of the pandemic. Patrick was reaccepted this year, and she’ll present in April.
That research opportunity led Patrick to become a Cooney Center Research Scholar her junior year. Patrick was one of five students chosen to work with Dr. Sarah Vaala, HPU’s assistant professor of strategic communication.
Vaala is leading a project on behalf of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, and she and the HPU students she selected looked into how digital media impacts children’s learning and development. Upon lifted COVID-19 restrictions, the students are scheduled to present their findings this spring in New York City to the producers of “Sesame Street.”
Patrick scored this research opportunity because of Vess. She recommended Patrick.
“Allison deserves the opportunity to grow,” Vess says about why she recommended her. “She worked very hard for me, and I felt that I would not be able to provide her that next step of opportunity in research. I saw this as her next step, and I felt she could help them.”
Patrick does enjoy research.
“I feel it’s breaking the stereotype,” she says. “Education majors can do research as well, and what I’ve learned is that research is not just for your eyes. It’s for other people to learn from, too.”
Shy No More
At Morgantown High, she wasn’t outgoing at all. She was, as she says, “too afraid.” She had gone to school with many of her classmates since kindergarten, and everyone knew her as the shy, quiet girl.
When she arrived at HPU, Patrick knew no one. Yet, she had one big thing in mind –– not to let her fear stop her from being herself, being adventurous and becoming a campus leader.
She started with the sorority Phi Mu. Her big sister in the sorority, Olivia Krodel, a graphic design major, encouraged her to run for something.
“Go for it,” Krodel told her. “Find something you’re interested in.”
Patrick became the sorority’s new member of the year and took on various leadership positions in Phi Mu.
By the end of her sophomore year, Patrick spent two weeks in Australia with Vess and Dr. Leslie Cavendish, an assistant professor of education, and saw up-close the way Australia educates its children.
By the end of her junior year, HPU education professors picked her to be a part of HPU’s Teacher Education Council to help area educators look into ways to improve teacher preparedness. Patrick is the only undergraduate education major on the council.
She’s now one of 10 North Carolina college students –– the only HPU education major –– to receive the North Carolina Space Grant Pre-Service Teacher Scholarship. The grant gives her a stipend to help her learn more about STEM with the help of NASA.
Since her freshman year, Patrick has participated in three service-learning courses. This year, Patrick tackled her fourth. It’s an independent service-learning course that delves into ways to improve the Makerspace at High Point’s Fairview Elementary.
Patrick is working with Christina Mayhand, Fairview’s librarian. So far, Patrick has collected cardboard and raised $380 so Mayhand can buy supplies without using her own money to help students create.
“She’ll send me pictures of the kids using this stuff,” says Patrick, a member of six honor societies. “You can see they’re getting something out of it.”
So much for being the shy girl from West Virginia.
“High Point gave me the opportunity to come out of my shell,” she says. “They supported me.’’