Passion for early childhood education blends work and play
By: Dalila Kahvedzic
T.E.A.C.H Missouri Scholarships (Teach Early Childhood Missouri Scholarship), is designed to help students who are working full time and want to receive their degree in early childhood education, Assistant Director of the program Penny Mosher said.
“It’s a very underserved professional field,” Lang said.
STLCC Students Alyssa Dudash and Alexis Book are both recipients of this scholarship and work at Mary Margaret Day Care Center.
Director of the day care center and mother of Alyssa, Carmi Dudash, thinks T.E.A.C.H. Missouri is a great program.
“It gives the teachers the opportunity to go back to school and get educated. I have three teachers here on the scholarship plus another one at a different location so without that they probably would not be in college,” Dudash said.
This was confirmed by Book, who has been working at the center for five years and said she would not have gone back to school if It was not for her job and T.E.A.C.H. Missouri. She is now two classes away from finishing her degree.
“I just like working with kids,” Book said. “I really like planning lessons and activities.”
Book plans to teach Pre-K because the conversation level is interesting, she said. Working at the day care center and being in this field forces her to have a positive attitude.
“I like working with kids so I like being here. It allows me to step out of my comfort zone. I open in the morning – I’m not a very big talker to begin with – so that makes me push myself and not want to retreat,” Book said.
Student Alyssa Dudash has been studying since fall 2013 on various STLCC campuses, including online classes.
“I’ve grown up at this day care, I started working here when I was 16 and decided that this is what I wanted to do,” Dudash said.
She plans to work with pre-k kids as well.
“They’re old enough to understand things that you do with them but they’re young enough where they’re fun and cute,” Dudash said. “They’re still vulnerable.”
Working with kids makes Dudash’s life happier, she said. A lot happier than her friends who have other jobs that do not involve children.
Dudash’s favorite aspect of doing what she does is her ability to make an impact on the kids.
“The impact on their life that’s made, especially since a lot of them come from different home lives that aren’t so great and that goes away when they’re here.”
If it was not for T.E.A.C.H. Missouri, she would not be where she is.
“It’s expensive when it’s coming out of pocket and that scholarship is the best thing ever, I try to tell everyone who’s interested at school about it because it’s so good.”
The T.E.A.C.H. Missouri Scholarship is a very unique scholarship, Lang said, especially since it is really the only scholarship out there that is for folks in the field.
“This scholarship is for early childhood professionals, not for elementary Ed or high school teachers, that reason being is that this profession is usually working full time and to get scholarships you usually have to be going to school full time,” Lang said. “Well if you’re working full time you can’t go to school full time.”
T.E.A.C.H. Missouri Scholarships partners with various other programs such as the department of social services and Missouri accreditation to provide students with these scholarships, Director Beth Ann Lang said.
This scholarship has been in Missouri since the year 2000 and is available in 24 other states including the District of Columbia, Mosher said.
There are eligibility requirements to apply for the scholarship, Mosher said. These requirements include a high school diploma or GED, the student has to work with children directly from the ages of 0-5 for at least 30 hours a week and cannot make more than $15 per hour as a teacher/assistant and $16.50 as a director/owner.
“We don’t look at previous grades, we don’t ask folks to send in transcripts, we take people where they are at and try to move them forward,” Mosher said.
For students who want to join the military, the military does agree to pay for some of the schooling, Mosher said, but you agree to go into service.
“Sweat equity,” Lang said as she laughed.
The eligibility applies only to licensed childcare programs. For liability reasons, T.E.A.C.H Missouri cannot work with unlicensed, unregulated or license exempt.
“This is because money is accepted from the state and we go by what their rules are,” Lang said.
Students can apply for this scholarship online at teachmissouri.org and the application process is not hard, Lang said.
Students go to the website, fill out an application and send it in. The application then goes through the approval process to meet the eligibility requirements and a contract is sent to the recipient which is good for one full year or three semesters, Mosher said.
“There is no dollar cap on [the scholarship] so if someone is going to UMSL, we pay whatever the 75% of it is for them to go to UMSL,” Mosher said. “We ask that everybody during that one-year time take a minimum of nine hours, they must successfully complete nine hours with up to fifteen hours.”
If students choose to take more than nine hours per semester to get done faster, they can, but the program only covers 15 hours per year, Mosher said. Students can keep renewing their contracts until they are done with their education.
“[Renewing a contract] is a very simple process. As long as they have been successful with their classes we will keep renewing them,” Mosher said.
T.E.A.C.H. Missouri helps students receive associate and bachelor’s degrees, they do not provide services for the graduate level.
“Once someone has completed a contract with us, the way the scholarship is designed is that it is a scholarship and we ask that the center they’re working at pay a small portion; 10-15 percent of the cost of the tuition and books as well,” Lang said. “But in return when someone completes a contract with us then they are asked to stay and work at that facility that sponsored them anywhere from six months up to a year depending on the level of scholarship that they receive.”
The kind of qualities students should have is the passion and dedication, Mosher said.
“We’re definitely looking for that initial passion and that dedication to caring for young children and beyond that, we are also looking for people who want to be professional, who want to see themselves on the same level as people who work in – not only grade school and high school – but even, I would say, I want to see folks who are viewing themselves as people who can even teach at a college level,” Mosher said.
A lot of folks go into the early childhood education field because they love kids and they have a passion for working with them, Mosher said, but unfortunately because of low wages, that is not enough to keep folks going.
“You do get burned out. It seems like after six, seven, ten years folks can get kind of burnt out in the classroom,” Mosher said.
One recipient by the name of Alicia is a perfect example of one of their success stories, Mosher said. Alicia started out as a single mom who dropped out of high school but decided to get her act together and get her associates degree. She then went on and got her bachelor’s degree and now owns two childcare programs in St. Louis with a master’s degree in the works at Webster University,
“She is very much a success story,” Lang said in agreement. “We are very proud of her.”
It took her awhile to find herself and get things going, Mosher said. But once she did, she kept her commitment and love of children and her two centers both teach in the style of Reggio-Emilia.
“It’s the two towns in Italy where it was formed, Reggio and Emilia,” Lang said.
Reggio-Emilia is another style of teaching, Mosher said. It is very child-centered and child-constructed.
“She’s taking a very unique approach, she’s trying to be a leader, she is out there looking for other resources and other grants,” Mosher said. “She’s someone that is a professional, she’s used herself as a leader; somebody who wants to not only be in the classroom but lead the whole profession forward.”
To increase the quality of care is their main goal, Lang said.
“If you’re going for efficiency certificate, we’re there. If you want to get your associate’s degree, we’re there. If you want to get your bachelor’s degree, we’re there,” Lang said. “Our whole goal is to increase the quality of care for the families and for the children and to do that by the quality, the understanding, the knowledge and skills that the early childhood staff teachers have. By doing that, we’re building into them.”
Funding is currently available for this program so now is the time to apply, Mosher said.
“We would really love to hear from people and see what we can do for them,” Mosher said. “The really amazing thing is that after 16 years, we have the evidence. We can show that people do; they learn, they excel, it moves forward,” Lang said. “This program changes lives.”