Wake County infant-toddler teacher Yvonne Blair-Burnette came to early childhood with a wealth of education and experience. With a Master’s Degree in Social Work and multiple early childhood semester hours, she worked for years in early childhood mental health. She visited various centers to help young children with developmental delays and social-emotional issues and got to experience first-hand how important this type of assistance can be for children and families. Upon retirement, her daughter had another path in mind.
Her daughter owns the child care program in which she now works and was always coaching Yvonne to take early childhood classes. Yvonne said, “I think my working in early childhood was always my daughter’s secret mission. She knew that I had a wealth of knowledge about children and she needed that person to come and be part of her work family. I bought into it. It has been rewarding and I’ve now been here for 13 years.”
She said, “We are building a foundation here. To watch those children grow is wonderful because we have nurtured them and provided what many of them might not otherwise have had. My background helps me to address social-emotional challenges. It all starts with the hugging! We are giving them positive physical and verbal messages of love and affirmation. The children love that. They want to be acknowledged.”
Many of the children and families her center serves experience poverty and even homelessness. It is part of the stress that she and other teachers face – finding resources the children need. Many times, before they can even start their work of nurturing and educating the children, they may have to prepare them for their day. They may need clean clothes or clean bottles, for example, and her center is able to help provide for these children. She knows her education gave her many skills, but the hands-on experience has been critical. She said, “No matter what you know, sometimes you have to get into an environment and learn more. You can have a recipe down pat in your head, but until you start baking that cake, you can’t perfect what you do.”
She’s proud of what she and other teachers in her child care program have been able to do. “Some of the children may not be able to sit up or cannot crawl and to see them blossom and meet milestones under our care, that’s joy. You want to see smiles from staff? We’ve got those smiles! We are making a difference, and that’s wonderful.”
She believes Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® also makes a difference. “AWARD$ brings child care teacher pay up to a respectful level. Our work is very meaningful, which needs to be shown through our pay. Our self-worth has grown as we speak about this program among our coworkers. Teachers are doing more for themselves and not making so many sacrifices, which causes a downward spiral. I see staff eating better and not missing eating lunch. Moods have changed for the better. AWARD$ is hope. It’s a safety net. It’s like sunshine, it spreads and is beneficial far and near.”
Yvonne has a message for the Division of Child Development and Early Education, which funds AWARD$. She said, “How can a teacher help a family improve their lives when they are struggling themselves? AWARD$ helps that teacher be less stressed or depressed. I’ve seen people blossom and grow. It makes everything so much better. We have a joke that says, ‘God will put your check in the mail’ and it has literally come true. Thank you.”