As a preschooler, Buffalo State College senior Mikayla Thompson was occasionally called on by her teacher to read aloud in class.
“I was one of the only students who could read,” said Thompson, who started reading picture books at age 2. “This is where my love for literacy and education started.”
Some 20 years later, the childhood education major is instilling a love of reading in first-graders at Geraldine J. Mann Elementary School in Niagara Falls, New York, where she recently completed the second of two eight-week classroom placements.
“We teach the students a new concept each day,” Thompson said. “I encourage them to be leaders, and I integrate technology into the lessons. They love it when I invite them to the white board to unscramble sentences.”
And instructors are still recognizing Thompson’s talents.
In fall 2021, she worked with Selenid Gonzalez-Frey, visiting professor in the Elementary Education, Literacy, and Educational Leadership Department and SUNY PRODiG fellow, to create a presentation for the Professional Development Schools on their experience with EDU 311: Teaching Reading in School.
“We talked about how we bridged the gap between research and practice as preservice teachers within a literacy methods course,” Thompson said, adding that Gonzalez-Frey believed in her and inspired her. “Dr. Gonzalez-Frey inspired me to pursue things I never thought were possible for me.”
Gonzalez-Frey noted that Thompson is an exceptional student.
“Her academic and writing ability are beyond impressive,” Gonzalez-Frey said. “Her ability to use research to create lessons and activities showed me she is going to be an exceptional educator. I wanted to collaborate with her and have her showcase her work because she has so much to offer and teach others.”
While learning remotely during the pandemic, Gonzalez-Frey had the class watch a TED talk by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist and educator who wrote Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The students then wrote reflective journal entries about it.
“I remember pouring my heart into that entry,” Thompson said.
The following week Gonzalez-Frey gave Thompson a copy of Grit.
“She knew how much that talk resonated with me and inspired me,” Thompson said. “I think she could tell how much I needed it.”
The oldest of four children growing up in Niagara Falls, New York, Thompson is the first in her family to attend college. After high school, she started at another institution, but soon felt lost, unhappy, and unsure of her major and her future.
While continuing to work full time, she decided to take a two-year hiatus to figure out her life’s purpose. She thought of the teachers throughout her childhood and adolescence, the ones who advocated on her behalf, the ones who went above and beyond, the ones who encouraged her.
“I realized many of the teachers I looked up to were graduates of Buffalo State,” Thompson said. “I knew that the college has amazing education programs, specifically the Professional Development Schools partnerships. I was really eager to get into a classroom to see if teaching was for me.”
Now, that she’s completed her second student teaching placement, Thompson said, she’s certain it is.
Soon after Thompson enrolled at Buffalo State, she delved into her studies and has made the dean’s list every semester. She also connected with other students by getting involved on campus, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Soon after joining Tau Sigma, the Buffalo State chapter of the national honor society for transfer students, she ran for president of the executive board, a position she now holds. In addition, she joined Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society in education, and the Future Teachers Club, which helped her navigate the campus and make friends with other education majors.
Thompson said she would strongly encourage other transfer students to get involved, “as quickly and as much as you possibly can.”
“It will make the transition that much smoother,” she said. “And you will develop a love for the school, as I have.”
Thompson won’t have to leave the college she loves after graduation, at least not right away. She was accepted into Buffalo State’s literacy specialist graduate program, which she will begin in the fall.
“I am so happy she has chosen to continue her studies at Buffalo State,” Gonzalez-Frey said. “We are lucky to have her.”
Looking back over the last two years, Thompson said, she realizes they were pivotal in her development. The hands-on teaching opportunities, the camaraderie with her classmates, and the intuitive guidance she has received from her professors all brought her to this point—confident in her abilities to pursue graduate work and a teaching career.
“It’s hard to be your own cheerleader,” she said. “I have lots of family and friends who have been in my corner this whole time, and I’m so grateful to them. But really believing in yourself to go the distance, that’s the most important thing.