Blog

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.

Maria Milla

 “I had to work when I was 15 years old,” said WAGE$ participant Maria Milla. “My country, Honduras, is very difficult, very poor. I had to move to a bigger city and live with relatives to be able to study. I wanted to be a teacher, but that required day classes. I had to work during the day, so I studied something else, but my dream was always to be a teacher. When I played school as I child, I was always the teacher!” Maria’s dream came true when she moved to the United States. 

Maria answered an advertisement for a child care center substitute and started learning about children, but she quickly realized how much more she needed and wanted to know. She kept working, took English (ESL) classes and then began her early childhood coursework. Maria started on the Child Care WAGE$® Program with the NC Early Childhood Credential (four semester hours) and now has her Birth-Kindergarten Bachelor’s Degree. She has moved up the WAGE$ scale many times, earning higher awards, and has remained at her current 5-star program since 2005. She is now only two classes away from earning her Birth to Kindergarten license. 

Maria knows how much her education and consistency mean for the children and families she serves. 

“I feel like the more education we have, the better we can do,” she said. “We learn about development and how we can help children grow and learn.” 

The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Program helped her pay for classes; she says she couldn’t have done it otherwise. She’s proud of earning her degree, and she says WAGE$ helped her attain that goal. 

“It helped with the financial component of taking classes. WAGE$ is a good motivator. I’m very thankful for all that WAGE$ and my partnership do with this incentive. I love my job and I’m happy, but I don’t make much money and this incentive helps a lot of us stay in our jobs. WAGE$ helps everybody. It helps children have the same teachers. Children feel safe, secure and happier. It helps parents feel more trust. They can leave their child with someone who has been there a long time rather than someone who comes and goes. It helps families because we don’t have to charge them more than they can pay. It helps the teachers a lot.” 

Maria joked that despite her years of education in the United States, her English continues to improve with the help of the children in her class. 

“I tell them to let me know if I say something wrong. They do! They correct me!” Laughing, Maria said, “Teaching is my passion. I want to stay in the classroom.” 

By Tomonica Rice-Yarborough and Kathy Thornton from CCSA’s Professional Development Initiatives Team

World Teacher’s Day was established in 1994 to recognize and celebrate teachers all over the world for their hard work and dedication. It also brings to light the issues affecting the profession to work toward a resolution for retaining and attracting teachers to the field. This day was founded to celebrate public school teachers, but early care educators also should be recognized on this day because they’re instrumental to the growth and development of our children. Their contributions to society’s economic stability should be valued, recognized and celebrated.

One of the main issues facing early care educators is the little recognition or validation they receive for the pivotal roles they play in the lives and development of young children. As a field, early educators in North Carolina often hold degrees, but they earn significantly less than public school teachers. According to CCSA’s 2015 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, the median wage of center directors in North Carolina was $16.00 per hour, while teachers earned $10.97 per hour and assistant teachers earned $9.97 per hour. 

Although degree attainment has drastically increased in North Carolina, the field as a whole still suffers from being perceived as a high priced “babysitting service.” For 30 years, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program has provided the workforce with access to a debt-free college education while they work as low wage earners teaching future doctors, lawyers, teachers, administrative assistants, scientists…

Our brains grow faster between the ages of birth and 3 than any other time in our life. Children who are formally cared for in early education settings outside of their homes depend on the early educator to support their developmental growth. Those years are particularly formative, making the role of the early educator even more critical. According to philosopher John Locke, “a child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge.” Early educators play a big part in setting the foundation for our children’s future.

On Sept. 4, 2019, Australia celebrated Early Childhood Educators’ Day to honor and appreciate early childhood educators. The world, like Australia, should have a day set aside to recognize early childhood educators. Sadly, early childhood educators are seldom during the World Teacher’s Day observance. This lends credence to the perception that early childhood education isn’t seen as a worthy profession. Why can’t we dedicate a day of observance to them?

Early education workforce initiatives in North Carolina such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, the Child Care WAGE$® and the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ salary supplement programs and NAEYC’s Power to the Profession are aimed at professionalizing the early care and education field so its members receive the respect, recognition and compensation they so rightly deserve.

Read the newest edition of CCSA Communicates here, where you can see all of our activity, successes and plans. Highlights from this edition:

  • Letter from the President
  • Child Care WAGE$® NC Celebrates 25th Anniversary
  • Strolling Thunder with Think Babies NC on the Capital
  • CCSA Celebrates 45 Years with Governor Hunt and Robin Britt
  • CCSA’s Meal Services gains recognition from USDA Southeast Regional Office and in Chatham County
  • Sesame Street in Communities Launches Foster Care Initiative
  • And much more!

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Millions of Americans live with mental illness. With May just passing as National Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to recognize that prevention and early intervention are the solutions to a healthier, happier life. 1 The National Alliance on Mental Illness records 1 in 5 (46.6 million) U.S. adults experience mental illness at least once in their lifetime, and “half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 25, but early intervention programs can help.” 2

One dependable way to intervene and prevent mental illness is recognizing it as early as possible, since even infants and young children can have mental and developmental disorders. 3 Healthy social and emotional development is the foundation for brain development in young children, and high-quality early care and education is a large piece of that development.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) works to build solid foundations for the development of our youngest children by ensuring all children have access to high-quality early care and education and that their teachers are educated and qualified. To ensure accessibility and affordability for all children, CCSA offers free child care referral services and scholarships for parents. CCSA also maintains teachers are educated and stable through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship program, and the Child Care WAGE$ and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ compensation programs.

With this high-quality child care and education, infants and toddlers, “who engage with responsive, consistent and nurturing caregivers, are more likely to have strong emotional health throughout life.” 3 Supports such as T.E.A.C.H., WAGE$ and AWARD$ help child care teachers further their education and receive additional compensation, allowing them to continue teaching and caring for our youngest children.

While having happy, educated and stable teachers improves the quality of care and education a child receives, child care can still be unaffordable for parents, especially if they have more than one child in need of care. CCSA’s free child care referral services simplify the child care search, helping parents focus on what’s truly important for their specific child’s needs without worrying about another expense. “Ensuring all families have access to affordable, high-quality child care can help mitigate some of the impacts of poverty and prepare children for success in school and beyond.” 4

However, even with affordable and positive early childhood experiences and stable educators, mental health and developmental delays can be seen as early as infancy. 3 “Children can show clear characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, at a very early age. That said, young children respond to and process emotional experiences and traumatic events in ways that are very different from adults and older children. Consequently, diagnosis in early childhood can be much more difficult than it is in adults.” 5

It is important to identify and treat mental health disorders as early as possible to reduce impairment, suffering and effects on overall health and development. 3 However, it can be difficult to identify mental health illness in young children, and parents may turn to their child’s doctors or teachers for guidance. “If properly identified using diagnostic criteria relevant to infant and early childhood development and experiences, many of these challenges can be effectively treated.” 3

“It is clear that state agencies [also] must attend to the mental health needs of infants and young children if they want to improve health and developmental outcomes, prevent impairment due to early adversity, provide trauma-informed care, and ultimately, see better returns on investment. Adopting an age-appropriate diagnosis and treatment is a significant step toward assuring better overall health for infants, young children, and their families” 3 and the teachers who educate and nurture our youngest.

Sources:
(1) https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Awareness-Messaging
(2) http://www.ncimha.org/
(3) A. Szekley, C. Oser, J. Cohen, T. Ahlers. ZERO TO THREE. Advancing Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: The Integration of DC:0-5TM Into State Policy and Systems. July 31, 2018.
(4) https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/11/15/460970/understanding-true-cost-child-care-infants-toddlers/
(5) https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/mental-health/

Written by Kayli Watson, Spring 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill

(From left to right) Chenille Coston, teacher at Little Engine Academy, and Kathy Smith, owner of Little Engine Academy, hold up their outdoor learning environment blueprints from Shape NC.

Health experts have always stressed eating healthy and being active. Instilling these values at an early age can be the first steps for a longer, healthier life for children. Children enrolled in child care may consume between 50 percent and 100 percent of their Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) while in care. Child care programs have a chance to provide the foundation for a healthy life, in terms of food consumption and levels of activity. Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has worked to create programs to help early care centers in multiple ways, including healthy eating and active play.

Shape NC

CCSA implemented Shape NC to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The project promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors and create a solid foundation for a healthy life. Shape NC integrates multiple research-based models to provide an in-depth approach to childhood obesity prevention. It combines evidence-based programs to create a comprehensive approach in partnership with the following statewide programs: Be Active Kids®, Preventing Obesity by Design and the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self Assessment for Child Care (Go NAP SACC).

Little Engine Academy in Durham, N.C.

Like other centers, Little Engine Academy benefits from several of CCSA’s programs, including Shape NC. Kathy Smith, the center’s owner, shared how she became involved in early childhood education and created Little Engine Academy. “It was something I always wanted to do,” Smith said, “The previous owners contacted me to say that they were closing and to see if I was interested, and I jumped on the bandwagon thinking it would probably take a month to open. It actually took about three months.” While Kathy has been managing Little Engine Academy since November 2008, the center  has only been involved in Shape NC for a year.

Little Engine Academy is also working to add more healthy meals to their menus through various programs. “We like to talk to the kids about what they eat, explain where the food came from and why they should be eating it,” Smith said.

Outdoor Learning Environment

For Smith and the children at Little Engine Academy, one of the most exciting aspects of Shape NC is re-building their outdoor learning environment. “We’re part of the natural learning initiative,” Smith explained, “We’re super excited! That’s one of the things about being part of Shape NC [that is exciting as it] is helping us get to have what is called an outdoor learning environment versus a playground.”

The outdoor area is a space for children to strengthen their cognitive, social and emotional development through playing games with other kids in an environment in which they can explore and learn. Additionally, outdoor play helps kids’ physical fitness as well as sensory skills. Little Engine Academy is excited to create an area for their kids to not only learn and explore but garden and learn exactly how food is grown. Now in its second year, Shape NC will help create these spaces for child care centers through funding and fundraising opportunities in its third year.

CCSA’s Other Resources for Little Engine Academy

Shape NC is not the only resource Little Engine Academy has used from CCSA. Chenille Coston, a teacher at Little Engine Academy, is also participating in a T.E.A.C.H. NC Early Childhood Scholarship as she works to obtain her master’s degree. There also employees who have received wage supplements from the Child Care WAGE$®️ Program. Both Coston and Smith talk about the value of professional development opportunities  they have attended. “For me, it’s been really awesome. It’s always good to learn more and they provide a lot of new information for us,” Smith said, “We’ve actually incorporated a lot of things they’ve given us.”

“The trainings [have] provided new strategies that we’ve been able to use in the classroom,” Coston said as she explained a recent strategy they have incorporated to teach the kids movement. The center also participates in CCSA child care scholarships that make attending Little Engine Academy more affordable for parents.

The Future at Little Engine Academy with Shape NC

Parents will continue to be more involved with Little Engine Academy as the school gets closer to its third year of participating in Shape NC. Little Engine Academy is looking for volunteers to help remove playground equipment to make room for the new outdoor learning environment, which they will start fundraising for this summer.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Little Engine Academy to remove their playground equipment contact Jennifer Gioia at 919-967-3272.

CCSA is hosting Shape NC activities this Earth Day Festival Sunday, April 28 from 12 – 5 p.m. at the Durham City Earth Day Festival. Stop by Durham Central Park, 501 Foster St. to enjoy all day performances and tons of fun activities. Learn more here.

Learn more about Shape NC here or call us at 919-967-3272 for more information about the program.

To support the Shape NC project, click here and DONATE NOW! Your gift to fund Shape NC workshops and events in Durham, N.C. will be matched 100% through a Social Innovation Fund Grant.