“When we are children, we have dreams and goals of what we are going to become and I wanted to be a pediatrician,” said Arietha Brunson, a family child care provider in Guilford County. As she grew up, Arietha found herself teaching the young children of her friends and family members and that sparked her desire to work in early childhood.
Her interest grew after she had her first son. “As I taught him, I wanted to learn more. He was excelling in pre-K and his teachers told me to keep doing what I was doing, and I realized that I wanted to offer that to other children as well,” she said. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies with significant early childhood coursework, but she didn’t want to stop there.
Arietha is now pursuing her early childhood master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “My child care program is in my home now, but I hope to open a center and have even more skills when I am leading others,” she said. “I learned that the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship was there to support a master’s and that was a huge influence in my continuing. I was elated to learn that T.E.A.C.H. offers scholarships to family child care providers. It has always been my desire to get higher education and to grow in the field.”
Education is important to Arietha because she understands the role she plays for children. “We are shaping their future,” she said. “We are inspiring and impacting their lives. I’ve given them the space to discover their skills and interests, and that knowledge has grown as a result of my education. I’m very proud that I’m getting my master’s. Getting in is hard. You just never know. It was a great feat to get that acceptance letter! I hope to even go further and get my Ph. D.”
Going to school during COVID-19 has meant more online classes, which Arietha appreciates because it promotes safety. She also has heightened awareness of health and safety as a family child care provider. “COVID has changed the world. We have to be so mindful and careful since the program is in our home. We have to ask parents about their health and practices every day. We are striving to follow the rules. It’s a different time that we are in,” she said.
Her biggest challenge, though, existed even before COVID-19 and has worsened during the pandemic. “We are overworked and underpaid, and that has always been true,” Arietha said. “Parents want the best for their children, we all do, but they just can’t always pay the costs of that care. I still give care like I would to my own children, even when parents can’t pay.”
That’s where Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® Plus comes in. Arietha said, “AWARD$ Plus helps mitigate financial stress that I face as an early educator. Compensation is a big issue. It is insufficient to meet the cost of living. It has helped me be more financially successful. When families can’t pay more, it helps balance that out. Seeing growth in the children keeps me going and it’s about the passion for children, but you still need fair compensation to be able to do this work.”
Arietha is very grateful to the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) for funding AWARD$ Plus. She said, “I want to thank DCDEE so much for lifting the financial stress that early educators face and I want to personally thank them for contributing to my financial success.” She also wants the same compensation opportunities for others in the field.