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University of Alabama in Huntsville student graced with chance to give back

An experience helping children with special challenges inspired a student at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of The University of Alabama System, to embark on a new academic path that has proved both fulfilling as well as personally enriching.

Niyana Junearick initially planned to major in nursing when she went to college, but then she worked with her mother at a mental health center where she helped children with special needs. With a new passion for education, she selected UAH so she could stay close to home.

Attendance at a professional development seminar in which the speaker taught about her educational experience as a Deaf child inspired Junearick to major in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education. As one of only six students in the new degree program, she will be its second graduate. Now, she says, she’s learned a lot about herself and has gained the skills and tools necessary to be patient, understanding and creative.

“UAH helped me become the person and teacher I am now,” Junearick says. The plentiful opportunities in UAH’s College of Education contributed to Junearick’s transformation.

She has learned how to modify lesson plans and to develop engaging activities that are meaningful to the children, and she credits the program for helping her to become more patient and culturally aware. It has always been about seeing the big picture, she says, which includes working with the children, their families and their community.

The program has also afforded Junearick the opportunity to complete internships at Heritage Elementary School in a kindergarten classroom and at Mountain Gap Elementary School in a pre-K Office of School Readiness class. These internship experiences have allowed Junearick to see the differences in how classrooms are run and to gain real-life experience in preparation for her future career.

Having the Early Learning Center and RISE program on campus has also been an invaluable experience. Junearick spent much of her classroom time at the Early Learning Center, which allowed her to work with children at different ages and levels to better understand various learning styles and teaching methods. She’s also been able to see how physical, occupational and speech therapists work with the students.

In the fall of 2020, Junearick participated in Camp Smiles, a camp for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) directed by a College of Education faculty member. In spring 2020, Junearick was awarded the Grace Club Scholarship in recognition of her academic excellence and her community and campus involvement. The Grace Club Scholarship is awarded to a Madison County student resident pursuing an undergraduate degree in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education. The recipient must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA and demonstrate community and campus involvement.

“This scholarship has helped me to finish my education and to cover any school expenses that were left. I want to thank the Grace Club for giving me this scholarship.”

When she’s not attending classes or completing her internship at Mountain Gap Elementary, Junearick says she is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority where she serves as the events coordinator, and she participates in community service events such as collecting winter coats, hats, gloves and toiletries for the homeless or toys for children ages birth to 13 years to distribute at the holidays.

After graduation, Junearick hopes to get a job teaching with plans to return to school later.

“Education is a very rewarding job for the students and yourself. You learn a lot about yourself and you grow as a person. The College of Education has a supportive and encouraging staff — you can always go to them, and they will help you.”

(Courtesy of UAH)