Appreciating AWARD$ Plus: Painting a Masterpiece

Union County toddler teacher LaTonya Pegues got her Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education in her 40s, and she is proud that she went back to school and stuck with it. She said, “It was hard, but I did it! I have a son and two grandchildren. I’m a teacher all the time: at home, at church, in my community and in my center. I’m striving to do better every day and be a better person.” 

Children were always her passion, but she was not able to pursue the early childhood field initially. She was a Certified Nursing Assistant for 25 years and when her son was grown, she decided it was time to do go back to school, to do what she loved. Despite her drive to get an early childhood degree, it was not easy. “I really struggled with time management, being a wife, a mother, working and going back to school. Life happens and you have to keep pushing to reach your dreams. It was all worth it in the end,” LaTonya said.

“My education has really helped me in my career because I know what the developmental goals are and I can see the growth in the children. I have more confidence. I have honed my craft and I know what I’m doing in the classroom.”

Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® has helped her obtain her degree and remain in the field she loves. She said, “AWARD$ has been a blessing. It is rewarding because it supplements income that we are not getting because a center can’t afford to pay you what you are worth. It gives hope to educators who work for centers that do not have much funding. These centers still need teachers to provide quality care to infants, toddlers, and twos. It’s important to start learning early and AWARD$ gives stability to teachers by giving an incentive. This incentive helps teachers to stay at centers that are understaffed and underpaid. I don’t do this job for the money, but because it gives me joy to create bonds and to hear my two year olds say their numbers in Spanish, which is something I taught them. Children are like a blank canvas and as we pour into them, they become a masterpiece full of color and knowledge.”

The supplements have also helped her financially. “AWARD$ has helped me out of some situations that I really needed help getting out of. Due to COVID, my husband was laid off and we missed his income and things got rough. I prayed and paid what I could. Just when I thought I was going to lose my car, my payment came. It saved my life,” LaTonya said. And she wants to make sure the Division of Child Development and Early Education knows how much she appreciates their funding for this program. She shared, “I am very, very grateful for the program. You don’t know how much it impacts our lives. We are real people with real issues. AWARD$ helps us stay and keep doing what we love doing. I could go to Walmart and make $22 per hour, but I am here for the children. Early learning is very important.”