Learning To Care

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Center directors who participate in TEACH are given a choice: They can either give their employees a bonus or a raise.

Those who stay in the program for two years see a 21 percent hike in wages, according to data collected by Day Care Services. After three years, it jumps to 37 percent.

Center directors who participate in TEACH are given a choice: They can either give their employees a bonus or a raise. If they choose the raise, they pay less toward the cost of tuition and books, and TEACH picks up the difference.

"We prefer the raise model because it addresses the real issue," Russell says. "It's permanent."

A small research study, involving 19 TEACH recipients who participated in the first year of the associate's program, concluded that after taking courses for a year, the teachers' interaction with the children in their care improved, when compared with those who didn't go to college.

One of the authors, Deborah J. Cassidy, an associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, wrote: "The findings of this study lend further support to the premise that improving teacher educational qualifications is related to improved knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices and higher-quality classrooms."

What's more, the 1995 "Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers" study, conducted by researchers from four universities, said that the quality of a center increases when staff members get more education.

The experiences of TEACH recipients are personal victories. Women who haven't been to school in almost 20 years are tackling college math courses, writing terms papers, and sacrificing time with their own children to spend weeknights and Saturday mornings in class.

"My husband is very cooperative," says Ronda Campbell, a mother of two and the director of a center in Greensboro. She's spending a Wednesday evening in a course for directors at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown. The small-group assignment tonight is to craft a policy for admitting children with special needs into a center, under the American with Disabilities Act.

"I've taken as many as four classes at a time, but if it hadn't been for TEACH, I wouldn't have taken anything," says Campbell, who plans to graduate with an associate's degree this spring.

Because TEACH recipients are nontraditional students with many other responsibilities, Day Care Services also provides the students with a lot of counseling along the way.

Without those services, Tondra Hunter might not have reached her goal. The first of 22 grandchildren to attend college, the 31-year-old Hunter, who teaches a class of 3-year-olds at Kidworks in Raleigh, was one of the state's first TEACH recipients.

It's taken her six years to earn a "two year" degree, but that doesn't bother her. What matters, she says, is that the grandmother who raised her is proud.

"I've done things I never thought I would do. I know something about child care," Hunter says as her students nap on their cots. "Now, everyone is pushing me to get my B.A."

Centers are also using TEACH to recruit teachers who are interested in advancing their education and staying in the field.

"It brings a whole element of professionalism to the teachers and to the center," says Lynn Wray, the executive director of Kidworks, a work-site child-care program that serves the employees of Wake Medical Center.

Sitting in her office, next to an airy, uncluttered reception area, Wray could easily boast about the attractive and inviting classrooms or the spacious playground at Kidworks.

Instead, when prospective parents visit her center, housed in a one-story building around the corner from the hospital in Raleigh, she brags about how many of her teachers have college degrees.

"We get excited around here when someone graduates," she says. "We have parties and stuff."

TEACH has also stimulated improvements in North Carolina's community college system. As appealing as the idea of providing scholarships to child-care teachers was, educators and policymakers realized it wouldn't get very far if the courses weren't available.

When the scholarship program began, there were 36 associate's-degree programs for child-care providers in the state. Now there are 44, and more are being added all the time.

The colleges have been forced not only to add courses, but also to offer them when the providers, who are usually full-time working mothers, want them--in the evenings and on weekends. Improvements have also been made in what is known as articulation--allowing the courses that a student takes at the community college level to transfer to a university.

"At UNC-Greensboro, they walk in the door as juniors, and that's really unusual," says the child care workforce center's Vardell.

A new state requirement that all teachers have the credential by March is putting additional pressure on both the community colleges and the TEACH program. Colleges are hiring temporary instructors to keep up with the demand.

It's hard for people to argue with the concept behind TEACH: Higher education should result in higher pay.

"You can't ask someone to get that degree if it means that they are still going to make less than they would flipping burgers at McDonald's," says Sage Ruckterstuhl, the training director at the New York Child Care Coordinating Council, the advocacy group running TEACH in that state.

But there are aspects of the program that some center owners and directors here have found hard to swallow. Most don't complain about the 10 percent of tuition costs they must contribute. But some do grumble about the condition that they provide released time. TEACH requires centers to give most employees three to six hours of paid leave each week in order to go to school, study for tests, or just to have some free time.

"You can't ask someone to get that degree if it means that they are still going to make less than they would flipping burgers at McDonald's."

Sage Ruckterstuhl,
training director,
New York Child Care Coordinating Council

To hold up their end of the bargain, directors have to find substitutes, who are not in great supply, or cover the classrooms themselves.

For three years, TEACH was able to use AmeriCorps volunteers to work in the centers while the teachers were away, but the state opted against renewing the funding for that program.

Directors who are enrolled in TEACH are not required to receive any released time, forcing them to identify a staff member to put in charge and to break away whenever they can.

"There have been times when I just could not leave to go to class," says Anna Hartgrove, the director of Creative Day School in Greensboro and a student in the bachelor's-degree program at that city's UNC campus.

As she grabs another phone call or jumps up from her desk to talk to a parent about some racial comments heard from an after-schooler on the playground, it's clear Hartgrove doesn't have typical days. Hartgrove chuckles. "Sometimes I have to unstop the commodes."

She originally joined the TEACH program just to complete the credential, mainly because she wanted to know what her teachers were being taught. Now, four years later, she has inspired other members of her staff to get their degrees.

As difficult as it is for centers to provide released time, it's even more of a struggle for family child-care providers.

Margaret Shelton, who has been a provider in Chapel Hill for five years, even relied on the parents of her preschoolers for backup care while she was earning her associate's degree, which she finished in 1996.

"The last two years in school, I wasn't here for six hours a day. I was armed in class with a pager and a cell phone," Shelton says. A sleepy, blond toddler gets comfortable in her lap.

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