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Chauncey Hughes

Fundamentally Formative

By Lisa Cannon

“School is the
world inside,
preparing you
for the world

It was ‘Grandma Roberta’ who inspired Chauncey Hughes to embark on a career in childhood education over thirty-five years ago. In fact, he says that she knew this was his calling before he did. Growing up in Meridian as a young man, he assisted his grandmother in teaching Sunday school to children. And while he enjoyed it and was good at it—he didn’t think about a career in education back then.

Initially, Chauncey began his college journey with courses in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. Not too long after, he realized that was not his passion and made the switch to Early Childhood Education. Some of his male friends at the time teased him for this choice, saying that education was a “woman’s job.” But he knew his mind and went forward, getting his degree, and never looking back. He has worked in a variety of educational settings including Head Start (a federal program that provides comprehensive early childhood education, health and nutrition), a care home for youth in need of support, and now in Meridian. He is happy to be back in the school district where he himself studied.

Mr. Hughes possesses a gentle demeanor and a soothing voice, attributes that likely make young children feel comfortable and secure in his presence. As a man working in early childhood education, he is a rarity, valued for his capacity to offer children a positive male role model.

Traditionally, private preschools often struggle to pay their workers a living wage. One of the many advantages of bringing preschool into the public education system is that educators receive better wages and benefits. Illinois and its municipalities have invested heavily in public pre-K. The state’s Preschool for All program provides at least 12.5 hours a week of high-quality education to students. They collaborate with Head Start, the same program that Chauncey worked at in his early days as an educator.

Studies show that Pre-K is a tremendously important building block for success in school and life, and that it is particularly critical for children living in low-income communities. The most recent Meridian school climate survey highlighted the strength of support given to students to make them feel welcome and safe.

When we ask what drew Mr. Hughes to Early Childhood Education in particular, he says: “Because that’s where it all starts, that’s where children learn the fundamentals that will help guide them through the rest of their lives.”

In addition to teaching, Chauncey is the seventh-grade basketball coach. Coach Hughes views coaching as another facet of teaching. There are many things kids are learning on the court that go beyond specific skills of shooting and dribbling. They are learning how to communicate with each other, the logic of the game, and the history of the sport. He has a very holistic view of basketball as a metaphor for life. He expects team members to work hard, often saying: “You get out what you put in.” Another of his mantras is: “School is the world inside, preparing you for the world outside.” As an educator and a coach he believes that every moment is a teachable moment. The skills students learn in school are also going to serve them out in the world. Most importantly, he encourages students to “Do something.” He believes that it’s better to move and make a mistake than do nothing.

We ask what makes Meridian special to him. “The history,” Chauncey says, “there have been lots of ups and downs and heartfelt tragedies,” but ultimately people bounce back and come together. The community is not as prosperous as it once was, but people are hopeful for a better day tomorrow. Educators like Mr. Hughes significantly contribute to equipping students with the essential skills for success and fulfillment in school and beyond, paving the way for a stronger, brighter future in their communities.

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