Major: Early Childhood Education (A.A.)
Hometown: Vershire, VT
Career: Director of Creative Spirit Children's Center, West Fairlee, VT
After Sheila J. Bedi graduated from high school, she went to work for a local hardware store in Norwich, VT. Little did she know that her connections with customers would lay the foundation for her future as a successful early childhood educator and program director.
A Massachusetts couple with a second home in Thetford were regulars at the store. “They had nine children, and they always wanted a 10th. They were really good to me. They saw that I worked at a hardware store, and they thought I had more potential than that,” Sheila recalls.
They took Sheila under their wing and invited her to rent an apartment on their 70-acre property. She watched over their sheep and homestead when they traveled.
One night, they had her over for supper. They sat her down and told her they would pay for her to attend any college she wanted. She chose Johnson State because the setting reminded her of home.
Then 25, Sheila started as a liberal arts major, but she soon was drawn to early childhood education, which Johnson State then offered as an associate’s degree.
“I loved the children who came into the hardware store,” she says. “I had little crystals and rocks I would give them. I always wanted children to feel special.”
At Johnson State, Sheila learned from experienced teachers like Carol Story and Alice Whiting, both of whom supported and encouraged her.
“Carol Story was my mentor,” Sheila says. “She understood my life at the moment and the effort I was putting into my career and education. She taught child development, and in that class I really began to understand the ages and stages and level of development that I really didn’t understand before.”
Alice Whiting taught Sheila all about children’s literature. “The methods I use in working with children, the foundation came from Alice Whiting,” she recalls. “She taught us how to look for high-quality books, what books were more appropriate for which ages, about art work and how to use it, and how to draw children into the story, and how to utilize that story for other activities in the classroom.”
After graduating on her birthday on May 13, 1995, Sheila soon found work as a teacher at a childcare center in Chester. She worked for two years at a school in Weston, then ran a daycare out of her home. She eventually was hired to set up and direct a children’s center for Springfield Hospital. After that, she worked at Westshire Elementary School in West Fairlee.
“Each step brought me closer to opening my own children’s center,” she says.
In 2003, she started Creative Spirit Children’s Center in the old West Fairlee school. She first worked as a teacher, and when her own daughter became a preschooler, Sheila became director.
Licensed for 25 children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years, the center has received the top 5-STAR (STep Ahead Recognition System) rating for childcare centers by the state of Vermont. Â And on November 1, 2012, Sheila was recently awarded a Block Development grant of $300,000 by Governor Shumlin for the purchase of a new building to expand and relocate Creative Spirit to Thetford VT. The grant will allow Creative Spirit to serve up to 38 children.
“If it weren’t for the higher education that I received through Johnson State, I wouldn’t be able to touch so many lives in a positive way and make a difference in so many ways,” Sheila says. “Selling hardware and doors and windows, there’s no comparison to the satisfaction I receive from working with children. It comes from the heart. I really like what I do. There’s a passion behind it, to provide quality childcare and make the day a delight for the children. I get my identity from being Ms. Sheila at the preschool.”