Students from different departments within CAST (and one student involved in Gamma Phi Circus) were selected as Robert G. Bone Scholars for the 2020-2021 academic year. The recognition is the highest campus honor given to undergraduate students. Recipients receive a monetary award and are included in a Bone Student Center display. Students are chosen based on academic achievements, community involvement, and demonstrated leadership within the University and surrounding communities. This year’s recipients answered questions about their work, inspiration, and the honor of being named a Bone Scholar.
Kaytlin Halperin is a senior studying early childhood education, with a minor in French and endorsements in foreign language and bilingual education. She is included in the group of CAST recipients because of her role in Gamma Phi Circus.
What originally made you choose to study early childhood education at Illinois State?
I have always loved working with young children because of how full of wonder and enthusiasm they are. I first wanted to become a gymnastics instructor, but I was told that I would likely have trouble supporting myself and a family financially, so I decided to go with what I thought was the next best thing, a kindergarten teacher. I would not mind any other early childhood grade, but my dream job would be to teach kindergarten because it is students’ first experience with school, and they have yet to become jaded or bored. I wanted to stay close to home so that I did not have to live in the dorms, and I have been a part of the ISU family for many years through the Gamma Phi circus camps. Therefore, knowing that ISU was also a prime school for education majors, I felt that it was the best choice for me.
Do you have any mentors or people who have helped guide your academic path so far?
I have so many mentors. First and foremost, my family, siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents have been by my side, supporting me through every hardship, setback, and big decision. I could never have gotten this far without them. In addition to my family, my teachers and professors have been incredibly helpful on my academic journey. In junior high, I had many teachers who began molding me, but three teachers, Mrs. Ernat, Ritchason, and Isaacs were the most influential. They helped me learn to love myself for who I was and showed me that there were people outside of myself and my family who cared about me, an essential development going into high school. Then, in high school, I had two teachers Mrs. Peyton and Miss Konopasek who are still friends today, and who took me under their wings leading to my focus on physical and mental health as well as my much more elevated writing and grammar abilities. Finally, my sociology teacher, Mr. Robinson, and many professors here at ISU, namely Miranda Lin, Dr. Howell, Dr. Miller, and Dr. Ciani broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to the world of teaching and the French language.
Tell us about a favorite course or project you have worked on. What did you enjoy the most about it?
In my junior year literacy for early childhood education class, we were asked to create a literacy bag to send home to families with children in our clinical placements. I absolutely loved this project because it was incredibly formative and applicable to the life of a practicing teacher. It not only allowed me to experience making said literacy bag, but also can be used in my own future classroom. I also enjoyed the autonomy we were given in this project allowing me to choose the topic of “hair” for my bag. This topic is political but relevant to the lives of young children who are beginning to notice differences among themselves. I was proud to see the response I received from the parents in my clinical class, thanking me for presenting their children with resources to learn about these differences in a way that champions them rather than degrades or discriminates. I also enjoyed this project because of the need to think on the spot like a teacher. When parents did not return the bag on time or fill out the response sheet, I had to quickly decide how to change my schedule and that of other students to accommodate. Finally, it helped me grow as a person, as there were times when I became frustrated, but in the end I learned how important it is to meet families where they are and accept the fact that not all families will work on the same schedule as myself.
How have you adapted to this learning environment we are currently in (with a majority of courses online)?
I have adapted well enough. I do admit that it is more difficult to keep up without professors telling me every two days that I have assignments due, but I am taking it week by week and trying my best to manage my time wisely. However, the amount of time I spend in front of a screen is the only thing that is bothersome. Otherwise, I enjoy the extra time I have with my family. Before, I was constantly moving and busy, so even though I lived at home, I hardly ever saw my family for more than an hour or two a day. Now I can go to class and do homework while spending time with my family. It is still difficult to balance classes, research, circus, and family time … but, if I continue to manage my time wisely, I find this new learning environment rather manageable.
What kinds of engagements do you have outside of campus?
I have lived here my entire life, so I am rather involved in this community. I am Catholic and go to Epiphany Catholic Church. I raise money for charity and donate products in Bloomington-Normal through the median of my own crafts and T-shirt non-for-profit, and I try to get involved in as many community activities as possible—whether that be through participation or volunteering. Some examples of these organizations are the Sweet Corn Blues Festival, The Pantagraph Princess Coronation at Ewing Park, and Hill of a Race. Additionally, I work as a gymnastics instructor at Rising Stars Academy, and I tutor for students in the community.
What kind of engagements do you have on campus?
On campus, I am a Presidential Scholar and part of the Honors Program. I am a performer and costume designer in the Gamma Phi Circus, which takes up most of my free time. I have always loved circus, and it has given me a chance to find myself and my voice which was so difficult to do in the past. I volunteer for the Gamma Phi Circus Camps in the summer to continue my involvement even when school is not in session. I have also been involved in the French Club and I have studied abroad in Angers, France, at the Universite Catholic de L’Ouest. This has brought me to my dream to teach dual language French education in my future.
What does this recognition mean to you?
This scholarship means so much to me. When I was first accepted to ISU, my mother told me that I should try to win the Bone Scholarship. This was simply her way of saying that my hard work did not stop when I walked on campus. I would have to continue to put in just as much effort to succeed in college. I responded saying I would never be able to accomplish that task as there was no way to ensure I got the scholarship, and that was it. My mother mentioned it frequently in the past four years, but I never really thought much of it. Nothing I did to better myself or my community was done as a means to an end. In fact, this attitude rendered the part of the application where I had to explain my involvement quite difficult. This reflects the fact that I am incredibly intrinsically motivated. When I was nominated for the scholarship, I was taken aback. It was empowering to know that others recognized my drive and determination and found that deserving of recognition.
Do you have any advice for students when it comes to academic success?
Time management and self-motivation are key. It is not effective to constantly expect recognition from others. If you study hard and work toward your goals for the betterment of yourself and others, you will find that you will be rewarded. Even when no one is watching, you will find reward in developing your own identity and picking up others.
What is coming up for you after you leave ISU?
I have many ambitions for my future. First, I would like to take advantage of my single years to teach abroad in a Francophone country, specifically Haiti if possible. My mother was born there, so I would like to experience life in said country. Additionally, I would like to write bilingual stories from the perspective of students and the other people that I meet there so that I can portray a genuine and sincere picture of what everyday life is like in Haiti. There are so many books written by Western authors that show other cultures, especially those in third world countries, as strange or deserving of our help or pity. I would like my books to show American students that their Haitian counterparts are strong, powerful, and unique. When I return to the United States, I would like to found my own French dual language forest kindergarten as well as my own circus gym so that I can foster the innate curiosity of my future students and teach them to take risks and explore their own potential.
Want to learn more about the Gamma Phi Circus at Illinois State? Check out the website for information on how to get involved.