“I had to work when I was 15 years old,” said WAGE$ participant Maria Milla. “My country, Honduras, is very difficult, very poor. I had to move to a bigger city and live with relatives to be able to study. I wanted to be a teacher, but that required day classes. I had to work during the day, so I studied something else, but my dream was always to be a teacher. When I played school as I child, I was always the teacher!” Maria’s dream came true when she moved to the United States.
Maria answered an advertisement for a child care center substitute and started learning about children, but she quickly realized how much more she needed and wanted to know. She kept working, took English (ESL) classes and then began her early childhood coursework. Maria started on the Child Care WAGE$® Program with the NC Early Childhood Credential (four semester hours) and now has her Birth-Kindergarten Bachelor’s Degree. She has moved up the WAGE$ scale many times, earning higher awards, and has remained at her current 5-star program since 2005. She is now only two classes away from earning her Birth to Kindergarten license.
Maria knows how much her education and consistency mean for the children and families she serves.
“I feel like the more education we have, the better we can do,” she said. “We learn about development and how we can help children grow and learn.”
The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Program helped her pay for classes; she says she couldn’t have done it otherwise. She’s proud of earning her degree, and she says WAGE$ helped her attain that goal.
“It helped with the financial component of taking classes. WAGE$ is a good motivator. I’m very thankful for all that WAGE$ and my partnership do with this incentive. I love my job and I’m happy, but I don’t make much money and this incentive helps a lot of us stay in our jobs. WAGE$ helps everybody. It helps children have the same teachers. Children feel safe, secure and happier. It helps parents feel more trust. They can leave their child with someone who has been there a long time rather than someone who comes and goes. It helps families because we don’t have to charge them more than they can pay. It helps the teachers a lot.”
Maria joked that despite her years of education in the United States, her English continues to improve with the help of the children in her class.
“I tell them to let me know if I say something wrong. They do! They correct me!” Laughing, Maria said, “Teaching is my passion. I want to stay in the classroom.”
“I don’t always look back at my own journey. Doing so lets me know I’ve been through a lot and I made it. I’m still making it. I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree soon!” Naukisha Wray-Darity is now back in school after many years without the financial means to do so. She had exhausted her pell grant and federal funding on past education and her center was not originally participating in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program because they did not fully understand how cost-effective it could be. Things are different now.
Naukisha teaches in the center her sister owns. Her sister tried to convince Naukisha to join her in the early childhood field when she first opened her program, but it wasn’t until after Naukisha had her son that she realized she had a gift. She created learning tools for him and her nephew and was helping them both learn through play. She decided she could help other children, too. She started working in the afterschool program and then became the full-time teacher for 3- and 4-year olds. “I fell in love with it,” she said.
Although Naukisha had already earned a two-year degree in another field, her success working with children made her want to share and learn more, so she completed her associate degree in Early Childhood Education and enough coursework to earn additional degrees, including an associate in Special Education. But that wasn’t enough. “I preach to my children all the time about the importance of college and degrees, and I wanted to meet the same standard I was setting for them.” The problem was finding the money to do it once her other options were exhausted. She said, “We really didn’t understand T.E.A.C.H. – what the percentages meant.” After talking with another participating center, they decided to give it a try.
Now Naukisha is on a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship and she continues to receive her Child Care WAGE$® supplements. She has been on WAGE$ since 2009, with ever-increasing supplement awards that reflected her ongoing education. “WAGE$ has helped me want to continue on with school,” Naukisha shared. “As a single mom at the time, my checks have helped me pay for child care and feed my kids. It helped me pay for books and classes. I don’t know what it hasn’t helped me do! Without WAGE$, it would be hard to stay in the business even though I love it. It has saved me from leaving the industry. I remember when my boys were starting school one year and I didn’t have the funds to buy what they needed. I had no idea how I was going to get through it. That Saturday, the WAGE$ check came. It was like Christmas because I could make sure my children had what they needed. They didn’t understand how hard things were for me.”
Naukisha uses her story to provide encouragement to other teachers in her child care program.
Joe has had the desire to teach and engage families and children for 18 years serving as a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, public school administrator and training and technical assistance specialist. Now, while he pursues his M.Ed., he is the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Program Director for Onslow County Partnership for Children in North Carolina.
“I am a true believer in lifelong learning. I also feel it is our responsibility to model life-long learning for those that we serve,” Joe said. “I originally became familiar with the T.E.A.C.H. program when I was completing my associate’s degree. Fellow students shared the information with me.”
What is T.E.A.C.H.?
In 1990, Child Care Services Association
(CCSA) created the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program
to address the issues of under-education, poor compensation and high turnover
in the early childhood workforce. In 2000, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®
National Center was established in response to the growth and expansion of the
T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship. The T.E.A.C.H. Early
Childhood® National Center is now offered in 22 states plus D.C. and
has awarded over 150,000 scholarships since its opening.
T.E.A.C.H. is an umbrella for a variety of scholarship programs for those working in early education in North Carolina. Because of the complexities of the different scholarships, each recipient is assigned a specific scholarship counselor.
T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselors
Bynum, who has been with CCSA for 22 years, is the program manager for
T.E.A.C.H. North Carolina. One of her main duties is to provide counseling to
graduate-level scholarship recipients like Joe. Those counselors are the reason
Joe can say, “The process has been easy to use and to understand.”
“Joe is a great recipient to work with,”
Kimberly said. “There’s not a lot of hand holding to do with him. He’s really
proactive, but if there is ever anything missing, like when we do check-ins
with our recipients several times throughout the semester, he’s very responsive
to getting me what I need.”
Counselors play a vital role for T.E.A.C.H.
scholarship recipients, helping them navigate through the many obstacles they
may face while furthering their education.
“I do the same thing for Joe as I do for all
my recipients. I make sure if they’re enrolled in school, we have the documents
we need to go ahead and pay for their tuition upfront, because we don’t want
anybody dropped…I usually go through and look at all my recipients, including
Joe, to make sure we sent in the authorization to the colleges and
universities,” said Kimberly.
And because of T.E.A.C.H., Joe will be able to graduate with his M.Ed. debt-free.
“T.E.A.C.H. has made it possible for me to
continually build on my education from an Associate’s in Applied Science to a
Master’s in Education without incurring a huge amount of student debt,” said
Joe. “Early childhood education is a field in which the professionals are often
underpaid and are themselves lacking resources. T.E.A.C.H. provides an avenue
to advance education and careers while helping to avoid massive student debt.”
Kimberly finds her part in that process
“What I really enjoy most about my position is…developing that one-on-one relationship [with the recipients],” she said. “It really just brings it all together when you’re at a conference or…attending graduations and you get to meet that person face-to-face…Especially at graduation, it makes you feel really proud, because you work with these people for so long, so they made it and they’re done.”
The Economic Impact of T.E.A.C.H.
Kimberly is also proud that T.E.A.C.H. has a wide reach that goes well beyond the scholarship recipient after graduation.
“We are empowering these scholarship
recipients to [earn] more education, which in turn, they bring back into their
facility, they’re better equipped to teach the children and then the children
are ready for school when they start kindergarten.”
Once recipients complete their degree, they increase their marketability in the early childhood education system and may experience growth in their wages as well. In 2018, associate degree scholarship program recipients experienced an 11% increase in their earnings, with a low turnover rate of 8%.
“In addition, it’s increasing the star rating
level as far as education goes for those facilities they’re employed in, making
them more attractive to families, so increasing business that way,” Kimberly
said. “Also, what [T.E.A.C.H.] does in the community…is increase the student
enrollment in early childhood education departments [at participating
universities and colleges]. So by T.E.A.C.H. sponsoring students at these
universities and colleges, there is a positive economic impact on the North
Carolina college system.”
Written by Edith Locke, CCSA Professional Development Team
The month of May signals the season for commencement
exercises at colleges and universities nationwide. As students walk proudly across
the stage in cap and gown, triumphantly moving the tassel on their mortarboard to
symbolize academic achievement, it is important to recognize degree attainment
roadblocks that the early care and education (ECE) field face.
Why are early educators more deserving of special acknowledgment for degree completion than other non-traditional, working students?
First, one should consider the shared traits of this workforce with college non-completers. The ECE workforce, much like the college non-completer, typically has dependent children, low income, works full-time, attends college part-time and is financially independent from parents.
Despite how closely they mirror college non-completers, degree attainment is not impossible. The 2015Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina Study reported 63 percent of teachers had a college degree. Additionally, 17 percent of teachers were taking courses in the ECE field with 60 percent of them working towards an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Unfortunately, degree attainment rarely means significant compensation
gains. The median wage for ECE teachers was $10.46 compared to $17.61 starting
wage of public school teachers in North Carolina. Additionally, over 70 percent of the
workforce’s household income was below the $46,784 North Carolina median
household income. Moreover, 39 percent of teachers received some public
assistance in the previous three years.
It is commendable the ECE workforce makes educational advancements despite challenges.
Workforce supports, such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship and Child Care WAGE$® salary supplement programs that help early educators access formal education and reward their retention, are crucial. Research shows degrees are linked to quality care, and maternal education has been linked to better child outcomes. Therefore, support for degree attainment in the ECE field should remain a priority.