Skip to main contentSkip to main navigationSkip to footer content

Sarah Burnett


Dr. Sarah Burnett

Professor, Early Childhood Education

Norco College School of Human & Public Services

One wrong turn transformed Dr. Sarah Burnett’s life. After obtaining a degree in Social Anthropology at the University of Wales at Swansea, she worked managerial positions at both The Bombay Company and Laura Ashley. But an auspicious detour while visiting the University of Maryland changed the course of her career forever. As she strolled through the halls of UM one afternoon, Sarah got lost in the special education department and started reading the literature posted on the boards, specifically those on Early Childhood Special Education. She had an epiphany.

In almost every job she’d ever had, Sarah was always teaching. In high school, she worked with her art teacher to help children with special needs. When she graduated, she taught biology to school children in West Africa. Even in her retail positions, Sarah was always tasked with training new employees. She realized it was time for a career shift. She first enrolled in American Sign Language classes and ultimately completed a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education at The Johns Hopkins University. The retail industry’s loss was a gain for children with special needs.

“I am a firm believer that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important,” Sarah says of her specialization. “After completing my Master’s, I had the privilege of being the program director at Creative Home Programs, an organization that goes into homes and works with families who have children with disabilities under the age of three. I wanted to train people in this important work that changes the lives of children at the most crucial point in their development.” She also has a PhD in Education with a specialization in special education from Claremont University.

Born in Zimbabwe (where she was almost eaten by a crocodile after falling into the Zambezi River!), Sarah moved to England at the age of four. In 1991, as a recent college graduate, she immigrated to the United States. The experience of starting over in a new country probably explains why she has such an affinity for her students, many of whom are trying to start something new themselves. “I have a lot of students who are the first person in their families to go to college,” Sarah explains. “Higher education wasn’t the given for them, but it will be for their kids. Many of my students have experienced failures, but they continue to pick themselves back up again; they do this to show their kids how to be strong and not give in to their fears. I feel honored to be a part of that, because teaching is about empowerment and a person’s ability to change whatever it is they want to change in their life. Teaching is about helping people find what they do best.”

Sarah is convinced that no matter what she was doing or where she was living, she would have eventually found her way to teaching. Her statement is backed up by almost 20 years of educational service, 14 of which have been at Norco College.

“What I love the most about my students is that they are tough. They want to change their lives. They aren’t here because it’s what has always been expected, they are here because if they weren’t here, they’d be stuck in whatever circumstances surround them. I get to watch them transform, to see them develop from a person with little self-confidence on the first day, to a powerful being that knows he or she can go out and deliver amazing things for themselves. I have students come back who are getting their Master’s degrees, students for whom any kind of a degree was once considered impossible. They all say the change started here for them, at Norco College. To me, that is why people choose to teach.”

In her spare time, Sarah loves to spend time with her partner Mark, her stepdaughter Sage, and ride her horse, Q, named after the quirky and omnipotent Star Trek villain. She also has three rescue dogs and four cats that actually get along. And don’t forget the fish. Yoga and growing beautiful flowers help to keep her balanced outside of the classroom.


To view the Early Childhood Education program page, click here.

Mustang of the Month February 2021 Dr. Sarah Burnett

Mustang of the Month - February 2021

Dr. Sarah Burnett is a true champion of students, her nominator writes “Dr. Burnett is a tireless advocate not only for our students, but for the next generation of Mustangs. She has served as a faculty leader in countless roles, providing expertise for our college and on statewide Early Childhood Education committees.” I am proud to recognize Dr. Burnett for her leadership in countless roles, for bringing in grant revenue, supporting Distance Ed, and for her unwavering vision for Stokoe as the future home of our NC students. Most recently, Dr. Burnett was invited to be a part of Design Team for the California Commission for Teacher Credentialling Pilot, in which we will identify a Quality Peer Review process for the new CA Early Childhood Education (ECE) Teacher Performance Expectations. Norco College and its students both current and future could not ask for a fiercer advocate than Dr. Burnett.

Norco College