Incentivizing Education and Quality: I am WAGE$ with Stephanie Marshall

I am WAGE$

“WAGE$ is so important to me because it adds more financial security,” said Stephanie Marshall, an in-home educator for Early Head Start in Alexander County. “When you love something so much and are so passionate, it feels selfish to say you need more, but you still have to live, you have to pay bills. On some level, you do deserve to have more financial stability and WAGE$ is able to do that for us in Alexander County and other counties in the state. It helps tremendously.”

Stephanie began receiving WAGE$ supplements in 2019 and has received increased amounts throughout her participation due to her continuous pursuit of higher education. While on WAGE$, she obtained her Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education and then a Bachelor’s Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies. She’s now working on her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Leadership and Program Administration at UNC-G with the assistance of a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship. According to Stephanie, T.E.A.C.H. is the reason she will be able to get her master’s without “swimming in student debt.” She said, “I love what I do and that keeps me here, but at the end of the day, if there weren’t programs like WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. to support us, I don’t know what the field would look like in the future. We are not paid enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.”

Stephanie pursued her degree in peace and conflict studies because of the work she does with families. She said, “As an in-home educator, I have the ability to go into homes that are potentially at-risk or need support on how to encourage growth in their children. I assess development and make sure children are meeting milestones. I give parents strategies, information and resources and help them build their capacity to advocate for their children and their family’s needs. Through my degree, I was able to learn about family dynamics and cultures. I want to help families beyond my own experience as a parent. Families struggle with conflict resolution, and I can now teach others to communicate more effectively and engage peacefully in conversations and advocacy.”

She became interested in the early childhood field as a pregnant mom with a 3-year-old. She was looking for opportunities for her daughter and learned about Early Head Start. She took advantage of the in-home education services and her in-home educator saw something in her and encouraged her to pursue working in early childhood. She volunteered and loved it, and eventually became employed as co-lead teacher and went back to school for her AAS ECE. Stephanie said, “I realized how interested I was in developing the family as a whole and encouraging parents like someone did for me. I wanted to be a great mom and also be a productive member of the workforce and help others. I spent five years in the classroom and then became an in-home educator.”

Stephanie feels strongly that her education has made a difference in her practice. She said, “It has created opportunities for me to understand how to be a reflective practitioner, to think about more of the full picture. It has allowed me to look at families and meet them where they are. To say that and understand it are two different things. The more education you have, the more buy-in you have about why you do what you do. When I first started, my biggest challenge was not understanding the why but wanting to be really good at my job. It was frustrating not to know how to get there. It wasn’t innate.” Now looking back, she can appreciate it all, but it was hard to juggle work, school and family. She did it and she’s proud of how far she has come and her growing ability to see things from different perspectives without judgment.

Stephanie said the WAGE$ education and supplement scale was posted in her child care program, so she was motivated to increase her education and the financial support she could receive from the program. She knows education is critical because children need and deserve quality. She said, “Quality child care and babysitting are not the same thing. You have to know what children need and WAGE$ helps incentivize the education and the quality. It is still a struggle financially, so without it, where would we be?”

Stephanie is very grateful to the WAGE$ funders. “We are very blessed with the Alexander County Partnership for Children,” Stephanie said. “They are hard core advocates for early childhood. They try every avenue to support early childhood in this community. I am so appreciative of them and to DCEEE for supporting WAGE$ and keeping it in our community. I hope legislators can understand that if we want future leaders to make productive choices in our society, we need quality early childhood education. I hope we can continue this program. I’m very thankful for the opportunities that WAGE$ offers to all of us.”