After 37 years, Joanne Duncan still has much to teach
by Mel Smith
After 37 years of being a certified teacher, Joanne Duncan still has a lot to teach, and no shortage of willing students. As the new director of the Early Childhood Development Center in the Spadoni College of Education, she oversees classes of children under the age of 5 and a number of CCU students who are training to be future educators.
A New York native, Duncan began teaching at age 19 at a nursing school while earning her bachelor’s degree. She gave birth to her son while finishing her degree, and started living by the mantra of being a mom first. Teaching early childhood education allowed Duncan to have her children with her. Even as they grew up and she taught other grade levels, Duncan continuously felt drawn toward early childhood development.
“It’s just so exciting to see how the children’s little minds work,” Duncan said. “To be able to nurture their minds is just a wonderful thing. It’s what brings you back.”
After moving to Horry County with her husband of 34 years, Duncan began her career on the Grand Strand as a daycare director of the previous Princeton South Academy. After an unfortunate closure, new owners of the same space reopened a new daycare center, hiring Duncan to be the daycare director once more. While Duncan enjoyed her time at the new Oxford Children’s Academy, she felt something missing from her day-to-day work.
“I knew there was something more I wanted to do, and I feel like I have a lot to give to students,” Duncan said. “What I love about this position is the fact I get to mentor students and help mold future teachers.”
Duncan guides students working toward their bachelor’s degrees as they learn the ropes of becoming lifelong educators. With hectic schedules and never a dull moment, Duncan provides her experience to reassure students they are on the right track. For example, several students are teaching classes of children who are in the process of becoming potty-trained. While this disrupts the academic lessons of the day, Duncan reminds students of the impact they are making every day on the lives of children.
“I tell them, ‘You are still teaching. You’re teaching social skills,’” Duncan said. “The academics are the easy part. We need to make sure the children feel secure and safe before they can learn.”
What excites Duncan most about her new role in particular is the uniqueness of the center being housed at Coastal Carolina. From partnerships with departments to the use of facilities, Duncan looks forward to developing deeper connections with the Coastal community to expose the children to much more than the walls of a classroom.
“I don’t want it to be an ‘us’ or ‘them’ situation, I want it to be a ‘we,’” Duncan said. “We have students teaching Spanish to the children; the children were able to use the swimming pool over the summer; and we already reached out to someone on campus who can train our staff in CPR.”
Duncan’s passion for taking the children’s experiences to new heights is inspiring to those she works with, including Maria Costa, the graduate assistant for the Early Childhood Development Center. While Costa manages the billing and onboarding processes for families, she is inspired by Duncan’s positive mindset and dedication.
“The children in her classroom have already reached educational milestones in the short amount of time since they began in August,” Costa said. “She always makes me feel appreciated, which is why I genuinely love going to work every day.”
When Duncan is not making a difference in the Early Childhood Development Center, she is likely rooting for the Buffalo Bills, quilting, or spending time with her family. Welcome Duncan with a warm message at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her in the Early Childhood Development Center in Kingston Hall on campus.
The center, which opened in Fall 2018, provides project-based learning that focuses on children’s developmental stages and their interests in order to create an individualized curriculum, plus plenty of indoor and outdoor playtime.
Up to 120 children between the ages of 3 and 5 are accepted into the center, and there are enrollment options for the school day, for after school, or for the full day.
There are two open spots at the center if anyone is interested in enrolling their child. Visit coastal.edu/childdevelopmentcenter to enroll.