LOGAN SQUARE — Laura LeQuesne Filipiak started college as an early education major, but like many college students she changed her mind a few times before finally ending up with an English degree.
Luckily for a couple dozen kindergartners and their parents, though, Filipiak followed her instincts and ended up getting a master's degree in early childhood education at DePaul University.
"I was always going to [work with kids]," the 31-year-old Goethe Elementary teacher said, reflecting on her years of working at day cares and summer camps. "I just didn't commit to education at first."
During free time on a recent Wednesday morning in her kindergarten glass, 5- and 6-year-olds flank her, asking questions about everything from how to write a 'U' to how a clock works.
"Miss Laura, I have a hypothesis," one little boy exclaimed as he held a toy plastic clock up to her to show her his thoughts on telling time.
Filipiak couldn't help but crack a smile at the boy using a word with nearly as many syllables as his years, but didn't miss a beat, seamlessly bridging his discovery into a quick little lesson.
"I love the social, emotional and behavioral stuff," she said of teaching young children. "I like helping these kids become good citizens. They grow so much here.
"To teach kids how to read — like, I have goose bumps — to unlock the whole world to them is amazing."
And Filipiak has had the unusual opportunity to watch those kids grow for half their lives.
It's her first as a kindergarten teacher, but for the two years before that she taught pre-kindergarten. So this is her third year with the same students.
"This group of kids is just awesome," she said. "After we hit our 100 days of school — we count the school days — it really hit me. I'm going to have to say goodbye. It's going to be really, really hard."
It appears Filipiak won't be the only one who struggles with the transition. She works closely with parents, who like the children have gotten to know her well over the last three years.
One of those parents is Dawn Manley. Her son, Nathan, is one of the students who has spent the last three years in Filipiak's class.
"There is a difference between someone who just shows up to work every day and someone who is passionate about what they do, and Mrs. Laura is one that goes above and beyond," Manley said.
"She offers her students and parents ways to do more if they choose, by signing the class — and even some siblings — up on RazKids, a fun online reading site."
Nathan was reading within a month of starting kindergarten "and loving it," she said.
Filipiak also had kids working on a math site called Math Score, where the class that scores the most points wins a trophy, Manley said.
"It's those little things that mean so much and make learning fun," she said. "She has made learning fun."