Saluting the newest scholars in DC's early childhood workforce

As an advocate, I feel at times a few steps removed from the families we work to support, but at an event I attended last Friday, it all came together. I had the opportunity to attend a celebration of the first anniversary of T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood DC, an innovative scholarship program that allows child care workers to earn college degrees in early childhood development and attain higher salaries.

T.E.A.C.H. is a program that truly impacts the lives of children. [Full disclosure: I am a member of the advisory board.]

The program saluted the most recent class of scholars, mainly women, all of whom were glowing with accomplishment and gratitude at the opportunity that they had been afforded through T.E.A.c.H.:

[In this audio clip I took at the event you can hear the many voices among many who spoke out in appreciation for their scholarships and for the unwavering commitment from the D.C. T.E.A.C.H. staff.]

Here's a look at the past year for T.E.A.C.H. .

  • 316 scholarships awarded
  • 255 of the recipients were for those caring for infants and toddlers
  • 97 licensed centers are currently supporting their T.E.A.C.H. recipients 
  • T.E.A.C.H. recipients have an average salary of $11.31/an hour. And yet these incredible students are juggling full-time work, families and now course work, attending 156 classes and learning 468 credit hours! Truly amazing.
  • The most amazing – the average GPA of T.E.A.C.H. recipients is a 3.15!!!!!

Sitting among the front line child care staff, I was truly humbled. In my comments, I wanted to recognize their unwavering commitment to the children they care for. For many of these women, the child care workforce often serves as surrogate parents for the most vulnerable children. They are asked to not only care for them, but to challenge their intellect, change their diapers, read the most recent research on brain development and spend hours acquiring additional professional development.

I recall a recent study cited by the New York Times that estimated that Kindergarten teachers should receive $320,000 if we truly value their work. But in our society our earliest teachers aren’t valued. On average, early childhood educators in our city earn $11.31 an hour which is about $23,534 annually. Those are poverty-level wages -- far from enough to support a family in the District. 

Once teachers complete their degree program -- a CDA, AA or BA – their salaries increase. This is part of a deal they make at the outset with their employers who also agree to pay a portion of the tuition costs. For their part, the teachers also pay a portion of their tuition and agree to stay in the same job for at least a year after earning their credential or degree.

The enthusiasm of the teacher-scholars was contagious! I was almost inspired myself to sign up for another Master's or PhD (kidding!). To help teachers set the bar higher for children, we helped them attain higher education. It is one investment in a seriously undervalued and deserving workforce that truly makes a difference in the lives of children!

Listen to the audio: