Kellie Toney is an early childhood educator in Cleveland County. As a recipient of Child Care WAGE$®, she sent the following letter to her North Carolina legislators:
“I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your support of the WAGE$ program funded through Smart Start. Without this supplement, I would not have had the opportunity to complete my Bachelor’s degree while working as an assistant teacher with Cleveland County Schools. The checks I have received through this program have [gone] towards my tuition and textbooks. Without this program, I likely would not have been able to get through school without student loans. Thank you so much for supporting this program, which played such a vital role in the completion of my Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree. This program truly helps those of us shaping the youngest minds through private child care and public education.”
Kellie began her career in early
childhood education as an assistant teacher in Head Start. “I love children. I
love to be there for all of the ‘firsts’ in learning. When children arrive in
NC Pre-K and Head Start, most have never been in [child care] or spent very
much time learning. I am there to guide them as they begin to write their name,
interact with peers and explore the world around them,” Kellie said.
After some time, Kellie began
wanting a role where she could plan what to teach the children, so she decided
to go back to school to complete her Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s
degree from East Carolina University.
With high college tuition,
textbooks and transportation expenses, Kellie’s husband had to work overtime to
help her afford to go back to school. They also took out a home equity line to
pay for some of her classes.
Fortunately, through Child Care Connections and a college instructor from Cleveland Community College, Kellie heard about Child Care Services Association’s Child Care WAGE$® compensation program. “WAGE$ helped me to graduate debt-free. With the help of WAGE$ funds and Education Incentive Grants, I did not ever need to take out student loans. I was able to save these funds and used them to pay for textbooks, coursework and required trips to East Carolina University,” Kellie said, “With the WAGE$ funds, we paid back [our] loans and used the remaining funding to pay for new coursework.”
Kellie felt compelled to contact and thank her legislators for their support of Smart Start, which the Cleveland County Partnership for Children, Inc. used to provide WAGE$. “WAGE$ enabled me to continue my education. This in turn benefits my students because I was equipped with the skills and knowledge to better educate my students… I want to ensure funds are available for [all] teachers.”
As the President of
Child Care Services Association, a mother and a grandmother, I have been
following the advancement of HB 485, the Virtual Early Learning Pilot program, under
consideration by the North Carolina State Legislature. The 3-year pilot would
allow up to 10 school districts to offer online pre-k to at-risk, 4 year-old
children, at a cost of $500,000 per year for the next three years.
I know that every year,
state legislators are forced to make difficult decisions in allocating state
funding. I can imagine that there is great pressure with these decisions and
that legislators look for ways to save money, while still achieving intended
outcomes. With regard to state pre-k funding and the goal to have all children
throughout North Carolina enter school with the skills to succeed, it is
important for legislators to understand how young children learn and what
school readiness really means.
Decades of research show that the greatest gains made by children in pre-k occur where teacher interactions with children promote critical thinking skills as well as concept knowledge through warm and responsive relationships. This isn’t by chance. It’s by design. It’s in-person. It’s individualized to meet each child where he or she is at to build on strengths and build up areas that are not as strong.
have shown the importance of “instructional, social, and emotional serve-and-return
interactions that occur daily between teachers and children, as well as among
classmates” that result in
developmental gains across early childhood domains (e.g., social and emotional,
language and literacy, critical thinking and physical development). These
interactions “motivate and deepen
learning, enable children to organize and focus their attention and other
capacities needed to learn, and promote peer cooperation and support,”
which comprise the foundation for school readiness. It’s about soft-skill
development as well as concept development related to letters and numbers.
In my career, I’ve had
the opportunity to visit pre-k classrooms and talk to pre-k teachers. Too many
of our at-risk 4 year-olds haven’t been read to; they don’t know that books
contain words and pictures that tell a story, that letters have sounds and that
stories have a sequence – a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have never
held a pencil or colored with crayons or written their name. Some haven’t held
a pair of scissors or developed the dexterity to use a pencil or have ever put
together a puzzle. You would think by age 4, children would know colors and
basic shapes, but some do not.
The same children might know how to watch a video
on a parent’s phone, but they can’t wait their turn or share, they can’t
transition between activities and they don’t know how to use their words to
express their thoughts or feelings in a group setting – to lead, follow or just
get along with peers. They may or may not have consistent rules at home so they
don’t know how to manage themselves appropriately and follow rules in a
classroom. These are soft-skills that are learned in a hands-on experience that
can’t be learned through a computer lesson.
programs also screen children for vision, hearing, speech and physical
development and help identify children who could benefit from early
intervention services in areas where there may be a delay. None of this can
occur through an online preschool experience – at least not in an effective
The NC Pre-K program
works. Studies have found that NC Pre-K raises children’s literacy, math and
social-emotional skills not just for kindergarten entry
but also throughout elementary school and the most recent research shows gains
through middle school.
teachers are asked what school readiness means and what skills are most
important for school readiness, their top responses include: children who can
regulate their impulses, pay attention, listen to and follow directions, be
willing to try different tasks (e.g., have self-confidence), engage in self-care,
get along with peers and have motor skills such as the ability to hold a
Despite the strong
evaluations of NC Pre-K, current funding supports fewer than half of eligible
children. To me, the answer should be to adequately fund NC Pre-K so that 4
year-old children can attend, not divert resources to an online preschool that
misses the mark on what matters most for early childhood development –
effective interactions with children. Not screen time.
There is still time to course correct on state budget issues. We don’t need a 3-year pilot that diverts $1.5 million from additional pre-k seats for children. Let’s put every dollar possible into expanding what works. And, for 4-year old children, that’s a setting that promotes interactions with teachers and peers.
 The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects, Deborah A. Phillips of Georgetown University, Mark W. Lipsey of Vanderbilt University, Kenneth A. Dodge of Duke University, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, Daphna Bassok of the University of Virginia, Margaret R. Burchinal of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greg J. Duncan of the University of California-Irvine, Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institution, Katherine A. Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christina Weiland of the University of Michigan. (2017). https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/duke_prekstudy_final_4-4-17_hires.pdf