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By Allison Miller, CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team

When Davina Woods was asked how she became interested in early childhood, she said, “I entered the profession as an undercover helicopter mom! I had just placed my son in child care and I couldn’t stand not being there and seeing what and how he was doing.”

Her child’s center hired her as a part-time school-age group leader before she eventually found her calling with young children and their teachers. 

She started with no education and now she is in the master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with the assistance of a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship. After 25 years in the field, she loves her position as director of Excel Christian Academy, a five-star child care center in Alamance County, where she has been for 13 years.

“It has been a privilege to work in every single aspect of child care,” Davina said. “In every classroom, with every age group, in every position. I have fulfilled every duty from cook to van driver and it gives me perspective and appreciation. I love this viewpoint. I get the luxury of working with children, families and teachers.” 

Davina’s center prioritizes its teachers by providing a livable wage as well as other key benefits, which she knows most teachers are unable to access in this field. “And then they get WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. on top of that,” she said.

The Child Care WAGE$® (WAGE$) Program provides education-based salary supplements to low-paid teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children between the ages of birth to five. The program is designed to provide preschool children more stable relationships with better-educated teachers by rewarding teacher education and continuity of care.

The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program addresses under-education, poor compensation and high turnover within the early childhood workforce by providing educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

“WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. are just part of who we are, part of the center’s make-up,” Davina said. “It is essential, imperative, to have an educated staff, especially here in the 21st century where children are not changing but the modes and methods of educating children are constantly evolving. Teachers must know best practices and know how to utilize the latest research and incorporate that into classrooms for the best outcomes for children.”

According to Davina, “WAGE$ is essential because it helps to boost teacher morale within the program. WAGE$ both encourages and motivates staff to increase their education. Additionally, WAGE$ provides a sense of healthy competition among team members as they see who can achieve the next level first.”

She said, “My teachers talk about the courses they take and they drive each other.” Three of her staff will graduate in December with their associate degree in early childhood education and they remind Davina of why she does what she does. “If I take great care of my team, they will take great care of the children.”

Thank you, Davina, for your support of the workforce and the Child Care WAGE$® Program.

Learn more about the Child Care WAGE$® Program here.

Learn more about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program here.

By Tanya Slehria, Spring Communications Intern at CCSA

Tracy Pace’s favorite part of being an early childhood educator is “being there, being able to be an advocate for [children’s] success and being willing to listen and try to help parents reach out, find the resources [they need] and gain new skills.”

Tracy wears many hats in her role as a lead teacher at Nanna’s & Momma’s Child Care Center in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. “And my title kind of switches from day-to-day,” Tracy said. “It depends. I’m a very flexible person, but the majority of my time is used either as teaching in a classroom or in the office as an executive assistant.” 

After high school, Tracy said, “I decided to get married instead of go to school…my husband and I were married for 5 years and our first child came along…We didn’t want them to do the same thing we’ve done. We wanted [them] to try to be smarter than that. So, we both had enrolled in school…Our second child came along and I just piddled here and there and did a class. So, it took me 26 years to get my associate’s degree and I’ve just done that this July [2019]” from Blue Ridge Community College.

Tracy’s educational journey may be filled with twists and turns, yet her commitment to education and early childhood education has remained consistent throughout her 30-plus years in the field. While working toward her degree, she was still supporting her family of four children as well. 

After graduating, Tracy enrolled in Brevard College. It was through her persistence and encouragement that they began offering a birth-to-kindergarten program and an education program for students to receive teaching licenses. She continued to pave her own path, and as she told Brevard, “I’d love to [enroll with] the T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship.” At the time, Brevard was not participating with CCSA’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, but Tracy’s determination led them to offer the scholarship. “So, in 10 classes, I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree,” Tracy said.

Tracy’s involvement with T.E.A.C.H. began with her work at Nanna’s & Momma’s where she became a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. At the time, she was her mother’s full-time caregiver, a full-time student, a full-time employee and a full-time mother. She credits her ability to keep up with it all to the WAGE$ supplement.

“The [WAGE$] supplement has allowed me not to have [a second job] and to help me manage all these other different things, as first of all, a wife and mother, and second of all, someone who wants to give back to their community. Without [WAGE$], it wouldn’t have been possible,” said Tracy. 

Tracy is as dedicated a teacher as she is a student. Her goal has always been to teach. Teaching “fits my family’s needs,” said Tracy.

Before her time in the classroom, Tracy worked as the assistant director for the Brevard Davidson River Presbyterian Church and was involved with various organizations. Her position helped her form a network of connections that serve as a benefit to her current role as an educator. “I think community resources is my biggest strength—those connections outside of this job and those I made before I got into this current job,” said Tracy. “I know people to call by name at the Social Services office. I would say that’s one of the biggest things for teachers, in general, is being able to know and have a list of those resources and know people by name.” 

Tracy attributes her teaching style to her community. “I’ve grown a lot and become a lot more flexible as I understand and continue to try to edge out a living in the community that I’ve worked and raised my kids in and [one that] they would love to come back to,” she said. She also credits her passion for reading, “which has given me an understanding and [ability to find] solutions, or things I can try, and that not all kids are the same.”

“We know everything we need to know before we’re age 5. That’s the point and most people miss that. They think we’re not anything until we’re 5 and go to kindergarten, but every child learns all their coping skills, their ability to receive and give information before the age of 5,” said Tracy.

Written by Colleen Burns, Summer 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill

Rachel Feuer and her children

Rachel Feuer is a mother of two with her younger son, Sam, in child care in Chapel Hill. As any mother of a four-year-old would, Rachel expects her son to talk about the toys he played with or the new friends he made that day at his child care center. But one of his comments stands out among the rest.

Sam raves about the food served at his child care center. “My son has asked me many times to make Robert’s soup or Robert’s salad dressing or Robert’s chicken or Robert’s greens,” Rachel says. “He has asked me many times why we can’t just have Robert’s food at home, and was disappointed to find out that we can’t just order it. Recently, he has started asking for Robert’s recipes daily, and wondering why Robert doesn’t have a cookbook.”

Robert isn’t a cook at Sam’s child care center, though. Robert Cates has been a manager of the Meal Services program at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for 20 years. He manages the kitchen in Orange County at the University United Methodist Church in downtown Chapel Hill and generates menus for all three of CCSA’s Meal Services kitchens. He also works closely with CCSA’s Meal Services program senior manager, Lisa Menna, who manages all three kitchens, to ensure meals meet the nutritional needs of the children by collaborating with dietitians and nutritionists as well as sourcing meat, produce and other products from local farmers.

What is the CCSA Meal Services?

In operation for almost 30 years, CCSA’s Meal Services program began out of the kitchen at the University United Methodist Church in Orange County. It expanded with the construction of the Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center in Durham County, and in 2017-18’s fiscal year, the program served 1,300 children daily in 24 centers.

The Meal Services program provides two nutritious meals plus one nutritious snack per day to children enrolled in participating child care centers in Durham, Orange and Wake County. These scratch-made meals meet or exceed all USDA requirements for child care and are compliant with the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CCSA serves as a food sponsor for CACFP,  a federal program that sets standards for nutritious meals for children ages birth-12 years, and subsidizes the cost of food for child care programs, targeting children whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Rachel says, “CCSA makes it possible for smaller child care settings to provide excellent food for kids and teachers. At the small [child care center] my son attends, there is no space or budget to hire someone to cook meals.” This is the case for many child care centers.

By purchasing food in bulk, the Meal Services program allows child care centers to purchase nutritional meals and snacks at cost, without having to maintain expensive kitchens. It also allows directors to focus more of their attention on quality child care instead of on shopping, menu planning and cooking.

“It’s also an educational process,” says Robert. Trying new foods can be an adjustment for some children, “but the child care centers we’ve been serving for a long time…know how to ease kids into it and help them to appreciate the variety and appreciate things that they’ve never seen before,” Robert explained.

In order to be eligible for Meal Services, child care centers must have at least 3 stars or earn at least a 3-star rating within one year of implementing Meal Services, and participating centers are also required to enroll in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program. Meals also must be served family style at the table as meals are not individually packaged, so that children can eat together in a positive setting.

Why is the CCSA Meal Services Needed?

Many families in North Carolina face the dual challenge of food insecurity and early childhood obesity. Child care centers play a central role in the development of early eating habits. On average, children receive more than 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at child care. Therefore, the importance of these meals cannot be understated. Nutrition and quality must be prioritized.

Rachel is a psychologist who has worked with many clients who have struggled with healthy eating. “Early childhood is the time when children are developing lifelong eating habits. If they become accustomed to eating lots of preparations of healthy vegetables, proteins, legumes and whole grains, they will be at an advantage for their entire life,” says Rachel.

Meal Services focuses on creating meals that are made using local products and in-season fruits and vegetables.

Robert says, “We buy from Farmer Foodshare, which is a local food hub in Durham, and they source from all over North Carolina. They get apples from the mountains and produce from down east. And then we also source…from farmers in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties.”

The program ensures children have balanced menus that include one poultry, one beef, one seafood and two vegetarian lunches per week.

“We have so many items on our [menu] list…There is quite a bit of variety and it always depends on…what’s available seasonally…We follow the meal patterns of the child care center food programs, and we also meet with nutritionists to make sure we are going above and beyond in terms of the nutritional needs for the children,” Robert shared.

Monthly newsletters let families learn more about what their child is eating and learning about in the child care setting. They even include tips and recipes so that parents like Rachel can try to incorporate these healthy foods at home. Rachel says, “CCSA strikes a healthy balance of wholesome food that (according to my kids) tastes excellent.”

Robert shared, “We’re looking to hopefully expand what we’re doing into Chatham County. There are groups working around the state to replicate our model in rural areas around North Carolina. So, it’s a slow process, but people think what we’re doing is worth trying to duplicate in other areas.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as Meal Services, please consider donating today.