“Life isn’t just about you,” said Michelle “Shelli” Dekker of Fond du Lac. “There’s a community, country and world that needs you.”
She should know. A graduate of Moraine Park Technical College’s Early Childhood Education program, Dekker is as ingrained in her community as she is committed to her role as child care director at the Fond du Lac Family YMCA. And it was this broad dedication that played a large role in her being chosen as Moraine Park’s 2009 Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient.
Having lived in Fond du Lac her entire life, Dekker has served her community well. An active member of United Covenant Church, she has directed the children’s choir, taught Sunday school and helped coordinate vacation Bible school. At the Fond du Lac Community Theatre, Dekker has acted, crewed and helped develop costumes for several community performances. And as a member of the Waters Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, she has served as treasurer and president. In addition, Dekker sits on the Child Care Resource Referral Board of Directors for Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Winnebago counties, and is part of an ongoing Fond du Lac County committee to improve the social and emotional health of children.
At the YMCA Child Care Center, Dekker teaches children in the classroom and oversees enrollment, management and training of staff, kitchen administration and accounting. With a Head Start classroom on-site, the YMCA and Dekker are able to also help families in need.
Dekker hasn’t always tracked the same career path. She switched gears after 17 years in the banking industry, crediting Moraine Park with giving her the tools to excel in her new vocation.
“When I went back to school, I was over 30 – older than most students – but I felt accepted,” she said. “My teachers took time to be sure I totally understood class, our lessons and assignments. They made me feel comfortable.”
As a working mother, Dekker completed her degree in five years by taking a class or two a semester and working at Tiny Tech, Moraine Park’s on-site day care center. The Early Childhood Education program provided Dekker with educational theory and extensive hands-on training. “I really loved the core classes taught by people from the industry who knew what they were talking about,” she recalled. “They provided life lessons – examples from real life – and understood what it took to teach children.”
As part of her coursework, Dekker worked at Tiny Tech, where she taught children and received instructor guidance simultaneously. For her practicum, she left campus and worked for other child care centers. “The practicum portion of the program gives students the life experience they need to practice what they have learned,” she said.
“Moraine Park does a great job of giving students all the aspects of child care needed. It’s one thing to be a good teacher in the classroom, but you also need to know about nutrition, running a kitchen, how to deal with families and how to manage multiple administrative duties.”
As the head of the YMCA’s Child Care Center, Dekker now trains Moraine Park students who are working on their practicums. “I love working with adult students,” she said. “That’s something the average child care provider doesn’t have the opportunity to do.”
She has hired several Moraine Park program graduates through the years. “They are well-prepared and have the critical skills needed to excel in this field.”
Dekker offers solid advice to 2009 Moraine Park graduates. “Choose a career you love because it will take up a major portion of your life,” she says. “Always give more than you receive, and if you see something that needs to be done, do it. If you give your job and community service 100 percent, you will get so much more in return.”
She and her husband, William, have a 23-year-old daughter, Kathy.