Major: Early Childhood Education and Care
Jacqueline Bjes considers herself blessed to have three sons, two of whom have special needs.
Her decision to enter the early childhood and special education field was influenced by the excellence of her sons’ teachers and therapists.
“The early childhood education teachers who taught my boys not only helped them thrive but also empowered us as a family,” she said. “It was through them that I learned more about my children’s diagnosis, strategies to utilize with them and how to better provide them with an environment that was conducive to their learning styles. I knew that I wanted to provide this same type of support to other families.”
Her career decision also was influenced by the fact that she did not learn to speak English until she began elementary school.
“It is imperative that we support and nurture students who are bilingual and multilingual. Being an early childhood education teacher allows me to support culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families,” she said.
Bjes initially began attending College of DuPage in 1999, taking no more than one or two classes at a time due to financial constraints. She then took seven years off to stay home with her young sons before deciding to return to school. She chose COD again because of its Early Childhood Education and Care program, which has a 2+2 transfer agreement with Lewis University that leads to a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. The transfer program also offers COD students a discount on Lewis tuition.
What she discovered in COD’s Early Childhood program were professors who were passionate, motivated, kind and understanding.
“Many of my teachers took the time to get to know me personally and thus understood and empathized with my personal family situation,” she said. “I always knew I was going to walk away from my classes with a new or better understanding of content, state education standards, early childhood development/growth or strategies to implement with young children. I remember feeling confident as I transferred to Lewis University that I had received a great educational foundation from my time at COD.
“One of the most memorable personal goals that I met while attending COD was completing service learning hours at a medical facility with children who had severe needs and complexities. I was humbled and moved by the children, parents and staff at the facility. It was through COD facilitating the service learning opportunity that I was able to volunteer at the facility. I was forever changed by my experience there.”
Bjes earned Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degrees as well as Certified Assistant Teacher certification, graduating with high honors. While at Lewis, she received Early Childhood Special Education Program Honors.
I always knew I was going to walk away from my classes with a new or better understanding of content, state education standards, early childhood development/growth or strategies to implement with young children.
Jacqueline Bjes, College of DuPage Alumna
“I passionately believe that all children are capable of learning when you focus on their abilities,” she said. “Lewis and COD provided me with a platform to be able to share this pedagogy with my peers, professors, mentors and the children who I was fortunate enough to have taught. I was honored to have been chosen for my collaborative work and passion that I have put into my advocacy.”
Earning a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education and an ELL and Bilingual Endorsement and graduating with highest honors, Bjes met her career goal when she was hired as a third grade, dual language teacher in Kendall County. She continues to empower parents and families of children with special needs and by providing them with informational resources and speakers through her children’s local school district.
Since 2020, Bjes has been a board member for the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois.
“This association has allowed me to reach a larger audience about how we can help support our children and adults with disabilities and emergent bilinguals with disabilities,” she said.
She and her family also participate and volunteer in adaptive soccer for children and adults with disabilities in DuPage County.
“True acceptance of people with disabilities and those who are culturally and linguistically diverse will always be one of my ultimate life goals. I will always be an advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”
As for COD, Bjes cannot say enough about the flexible scheduling, affordable tuition and transfer program that led her to Lewis University. She also praises her professors, especially one in particular.
“I would like to thank Mrs. Jean Zaar for her continued support in helping me achieve my life goals,” Bjes said. “She is a wonderful example of a selfless, passionate educator who cares about the success of her students. She is an asset to College of DuPage, which is very lucky to have her. I am eternally grateful for her support on my long educational journey.”
Pictured: Jacqueline Bjes (right) is honored for excellence at Lewis University.