The Natural

Author: Cal Powell

The lights are dim, by design, in Siobian Minish’s classroom.

Books are scattered about the floor, and large hand-cut letters spell out the word “EXPLORE” on one wall.

Minish takes a seat on a small couch and is immediately swarmed by three or four wobbling infants.

Here in this room surrounded by infants and cribs and books in the Child Development Lab at the McPhaul Center, Minish is at home.

Now in her 10th year with the CDL, Minish knew even as a sophomore in high school she’d end up there.

“We toured here and I knew this was the place I wanted to be,” she said. “I just kind of did my life plan around that.”

Minish, a lead infant room teacher at the CDL, has brought unprecedented exposure to the program.

She was named the Child Caregiver of the Year by the Georgia Association on Young Children in 2015 and received the Helene Marks Award as the National Child Care Teacher of the year from the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation earlier this year.

“Her innovative approach toward our infant program has resulted in an amazing classroom that is unique and built on a strong philosophical and developmentally appropriate foundation,” said Amy Kay, director of the CDL. “That, coupled with her commitment to promoting the early childhood teaching profession, is particularly exciting to watch develop.”

Starting out as an assistant teacher as a teenager, Minish was promoted quickly, owing largely to her obvious passion for the job and her relentless desire for knowledge. She was named lead teacher in the infant room in 2012.

“She never stops learning,” said Lori Treff, program coordinator at the CDL. “She just devours research.”

Minish often applies what she learns in her classroom, which is why the lights in her room stay dim (research suggests fluorescent lights can be too bright for infants’ eyes) and the walls have been painted in natural tones.

After earning her master’s degree in 2016, Minish eventually hopes to start on a doctorate.

“She gathers information and implements it in her classroom, even though it might not be easy,” Kay said. “She knows what’s best for children and that’s what guides her.”

The recent recognition is gratifying, Minish said, but the greatest benefit is the elevated platform it grants her to speak to bigger issues in education.

“I’d really like to get more involved in child advocacy and speaking out about early childhood issues and helping people be aware of how important the first five years are,” she said. “I really feel like I’ve been given this opportunity so I need to be able to talk about how important these babies are and help inform people.”

Woman holding award

At its core, Minish’s passion remains helping children and families.

In her first year in the infant room, Minish recalls a young couple that was having a particularly difficult time adjusting to life with a baby.

Over the course of the year, Minish watched the child, and the family, “blossom” together.

“And I remember they said something to me about how they don’t know what they would have done without the teachers here,” Minish said. “That’s what did it for me. I feel like I’m actually making a difference and doing what I was called to do.”