CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

June 9, 2013

Educator named student of the year

Longtime Fairview kindergarten teacher earns doctorate, recognized for dissertation

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— For the past 33 years, Elizabeth Pruett has been teaching kindergarten at Fairview Elementary. Over the course of that time she has taught close to 600 children about “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic”, but for the last few years she has done much more than that.

In addition to teaching young children, this busy lady earned her doctorate in early childhood education curriculum and instruction.

She graduated May 11, 2013. She is now Dr. Elizabeth Cornelius Pruett.

It wasn’t easily done, by any means. She was talking to a colleague, Dr. Lois Christensen one day, sounding her out about the decision to go back to college. “I was sort of counting up all the years it would take me to finish, and how old I would be by then, and my friend said ‘Elizabeth, if you don’t do this, you will still be that age and what would you have accomplished?”

And quite an accomplishment it has been!

There have been several life changes while she was pursuing her doctorate, including her dad’s passing away after an extended illness. “My dad was an educator, too,” she said proudly of Edward Cornelius, who was from Cullman County and the principal of schools here for 32 years.

 Dr. Pruett worked at Athens State and Wallace State in addition to her regular job — teaching at Fairview Elementary. She was supplementing her income because she had a daughter attending school at Auburn, and she was writing her dissertation.

And did all that work pay off? It sure did. She was just named the Doctoral Student of the Year, and her dissertation is well on its way to becoming a book.

"My family was surprised about the award. I told them that I wasn't a one hit wonder," she laughed.

It took three years to write her dissertation. “It's called, ‘Kindergarten Goes To The Fair! How the World’s Fair of 1875 Advances the Kindergarten Movement in the United States’,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a long name.”

She chose the topic almost by accident. She was reading a book and just happened to notice a photograph of some women teaching children in a model kindergarten. She had never realized that the German immigrants brought the concept to the states.

While doing her research she was able to go on a trip to Italy, where she did a presentation about early childhood education at the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) at the Reggio Emilie School in Reggio, Italy.

She was very impressed with their methods. “They take their education outside,” she pointed out. “They play with rocks and sticks. Their doors are always opened wide and there are no locked gates,” she marveled. “The children learn while they play with sticks and stones.

“Our children have lost the ability to entertain themselves because they have so many electronics now,” she explained. “They are losing the art of conversation and they lack imagination.”

Imagination begins at an early age. “College professors say that now young people applying for jobs lack creativity because they haven’t been allowed to play when they were in kindergarten.

“At that 1876 World’s Fair, the women in the picture were pioneering the practice of teaching kindergarten in English. Before that, because the immigrants were teaching in German, Americans wanted no part of it. It was only after World War II that the idea of kindergarten took root,” she said.

“I didn’t realize what I’d actually accomplished until I walked down that aisle,” she mused. “I heard the speaker say that only one percent of the population of the United States has a doctorate.”

Dr. Pruett is very excited and apprehensive about the future. She has no plans to retire at this time, “I’ll be ready, I’ll know when the time comes,” she laughed. She is currently seeking a job at a junior college or a university.