The students at College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Ga., were in the middle of their monthly community circle, singing a song, when President Barack Obama arrived for a visit.
While the visit had been planned for months, “the moment he walked in, I think everyone was in awe,” says Aaron Luke ’06, College Heights’ lead pre-K teacher.
The President joined the preschoolers, singing and trying out the accompanying hand motions.
“He was so cordial, kind and relatable,” Luke says. “He answered questions from the students and staff and spoke with us as if he had known us all his life.”
College Heights has been hailed as a model for early childhood education, the only birth-through-age-five program connected to a public school system in the state. “Since we piloted the program in Georgia and because of our reputation educating this unique population, we were chosen to receive a visit from President Obama,” Luke says. “I do believe my school system is very innovative and child-centered. We strive to make our instruction planned, purposeful and playful. We want our students to be able to identify and own their learning.”
Teaching is a career Luke didn’t contemplate as a political science major until he took part in UNH’s President’s Public Service Fellowship program following his sophomore year.
“Initially, I began school with the intention of being a corporate lawyer,” he says. But that changed after he worked with children from a homeless shelter in a summer program at Christian Community Action in New Haven.
“The love, the genuineness and the sheer appreciation the children showed me that summer caused me to rethink my life goals,” says Luke, who continued to volunteer there after his fellowship ended. He went on to earn a master’s degree in school counseling at Southern Adventist University.
Luke says he is grateful for UNH’s focus on experiential learning because it led him to an entirely different life than he’d ever imagined. “I did not try to be a teacher,” he says.