“This is the field I was meant to be in,” said Caldwell County assistant NC Pre-K teacher Grettel “Carolina” Jarquin. Her career path, though, wasn’t always clear. She did not know what she wanted to do when she graduated from high school. It wasn’t until she took an early childhood course as a college elective that she realized she wanted to work with children. Carolina said, “Reading materials for that class really made me connect with my childhood and early experiences. I wish that I had had an educator when I was young that paid close enough attention to my needs and asked me what was going on, someone who could have made a difference in my life. I then knew I wanted to be the one to make that difference for others.”
She had always gravitated toward children, and they to her, and taking the course helped her see her purpose, her career path. That elective was the start of an education journey that included an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education and eventually a Birth to Kindergarten Bachelor’s Degree. The journey was not an easy one because of the financial challenges. During her two-year degree, she lost eligibility for financial aid. She was constantly worried how she was going to pay for her education. She learned about resources from Smart Start that helped her complete her associate degree and then she used her Child Care WAGE$® Program supplements to help pay for her bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t until her last two years of school that she learned about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program that would work for her employer, and T.E.A.C.H. then became an additional resource and benefit.
Carolina is proud of reaching the finish line for her education. She said, “I am a first generation high school graduate and a first generation graduate with either a two- or four-year degree. Accomplishing something that no one in my family has done is my greatest achievement. I feel like I’ve been able to almost repay the sacrifices my mom had to make, having to migrate from another country to provide a better life for her children, to provide opportunities that weren’t available.”
Carolina calls WAGE$ a blessing. She said, “WAGE$ opens up opportunities for the community to further their careers without having to choose between work and school. It has been very important to be able to have that financial stability, to not have it weigh so heavily on me while I was obtaining my degree. I felt that it was right to take advantage of it and use it to reach my goals. If there is will, there’s a way.” WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. helped her have the “way.”
Carolina shared her appreciation to the funders who made the WAGE$ supplements possible. She said, “Thank you. That’s an understatement. You have no idea the impact that this program has had in my journey of obtaining my degree.”