MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Leah Solomon remembers when her mother, Gretchen, enrolled at MTSU’s College of Education. Solomon was in elementary school, soaking up inspiration from her mom’s studies.
“She was always teaching me and my siblings all about brain development, teaching strategies and how to have a positive learning experience,” Solomon said. “I think being introduced to concepts at such a young age gave me a lot of time to be curious about learning more.”
A Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native and now an MTSU sophomore, Leah majors in special education for students with severe or profound disabilities, still inspired by her mom all these years later.
She is also beyond excited to recently receive the Dr. Connie J. Smith Scholarship, which will cover $1,200 of her tuition cost. Her dream job is to become a teacher in the integrated pre-K program at John Coleman Elementary School in Smyrna, working with the same early childhood, special needs population as her mother.
During Leah’s gap year between high school and college, she worked as a teaching assistant in John Coleman’s program and fully realized special education was her goal.
“I love the education program at MTSU,” she said. “After attending another local college, it is so apparent how much the professors care about teaching their students to the best of their abilities. I’m so grateful for the attentiveness shown at this school and for the support in the education field.”
Gretchen Solomon, a mother of 12, knew special education was her daughter’s calling. Leah is the third of her and husband Steve’s four biological children: Blake, Andrew, Leah and Caroline.
“As her mother, I recognized many years ago that she has a gift in teaching and loving special-needs children,” she said. “She loves them, and they love her.”
Gretchen was inspired by her own educator parents to attend college and become a teacher when she enrolled in MTSU in 2006.
“After all four children were settled in school, it was time to go back and complete my degree,” she said. “MTSU has a great education program, so I was excited to finish my degree there.”
MTSU education roots grow deeper
After graduating in 2010 with a degree in early childhood education, Gretchen Solomon taught kindergarten for five years.
In 2012, she and her husband expanded their family through adoption, a desire she’d had even as a young child. Alicia and Thomas joined the family followed by Avi Grace and Aveena, 16-month-old twins with special needs.
To best support the twins, she contacted the Tennessee Early Intervention System, which connects families with children with disabilities or developmental delays to support services.
TEIS referred her to MTSU College of Education’s own Home and Community-Based Early Intervention Program. Early interventionists from the program provide developmental therapy and support for families with children with special needs.
Gretchen had such a wonderful experience at the program that she wanted to become a part of it and work with early childhood, special needs children.
“I had seen firsthand what a great program (it was) and how much it had benefitted my own children,” she said. “I saw the difference it made in the lives of children and their families. I could not wait to be a part of something so amazing, and I love it more every day.”
Solomon began work as an early interventionist at the Home and Community-Based Early Intervention Program in 2017. She provides one-on-one routine-based coaching to families and children with special needs in their natural environment as well as conducting assessments for the Tennessee Early Intervention System.
She and her husband continued to expand their family through adoption with Ciara, and then Millie, Zoe and Scarlett joined the family within the last month.
Gretchen is thrilled that her daughter will soon join her in the same field of work.
“I love it, and I cannot wait for her to join the work field, so that she can see what we see every day,” she said.
Gretchen is also proud to be a True Blue alumna and employee. Her husband, Steve, is also an alumnus, earning his degree in computer information systems in 1997.
“I love working for MTSU,” Solomon said. “I am supported by our team and our leadership in every way. MTSU is a wonderful university, and I am grateful that my husband and I are both alumni and (that) our daughter Leah will be as well.”
To learn more about MTSU’s special education or early childhood education programs, visit the College of Education’s website or follow the college on Facebook.