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.

Ellen Devenny

Ellen Devenny (right) at her graduation in May 2019.

Determined. Dedicated. Committed. Those are just a few words that describe Child Care WAGE$® participant, Ellen Devenny. Ellen works as an assistant teacher at a five-star private NC Pre-K center in Gaston County and just graduated in May 2019 with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education with a 4.0 GPA. She walked across the stage at age 62.

Ellen was 50 years old when she started work on her degree. She said, “It has taken me a long time, but I remained determined to see it through to completion. I would not have been able to have done this without the support of programs like T.E.A.C.H. and WAGE$. Because of my education, I feel more confident as a teacher.”

Ellen’s passion for her career and the children in her care is clear. “My favorite thing about working with young children is… everything! It is rewarding to see how they grow and learn new things during the school year. I love to see the child that struggled with feelings of insecurity walk away at the end of the year full of confidence. I love seeing children with special needs accomplish things that other children take for granted. I love working with children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and learning from each. This year, we have families representing China, Pakistan, Jordan, India, Columbia and Mexico. How can I not love working with young children?”

Fortunately for the children in her center, Ellen plans to remain in the field for as long as she can. “I began working with children in 1974, and that desire to continue has remained strong.”

Learn more about Child Care WAGE$® here.

Learn more about T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarships here.

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.” 

Naukisha Wray-Darity

“I don’t always look back at my own journey. Doing so lets me know I’ve been through a lot and I made it. I’m still making it. I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree soon!” Naukisha Wray-Darity is now back in school after many years without the financial means to do so. She had exhausted her pell grant and federal funding on past education and her center was not originally participating in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program because they did not fully understand how cost-effective it could be. Things are different now.

Naukisha teaches in the center her sister owns. Her sister tried to convince Naukisha to join her in the early childhood field when she first opened her program, but it wasn’t until after Naukisha had her son that she realized she had a gift. She created learning tools for him and her nephew and was helping them both learn through play. She decided she could help other children, too. She started working in the afterschool program and then became the full-time teacher for 3- and 4-year olds. “I fell in love with it,” she said.

Although Naukisha had already earned a two-year degree in another field, her success working with children made her want to share and learn more, so she completed her associate degree in Early Childhood Education and enough coursework to earn additional degrees, including an associate in Special Education. But that wasn’t enough. “I preach to my children all the time about the importance of college and degrees, and I wanted to meet the same standard I was setting for them.” The problem was finding the money to do it once her other options were exhausted. She said, “We really didn’t understand T.E.A.C.H. – what the percentages meant.” After talking with another participating center, they decided to give it a try.

Now Naukisha is on a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship and she continues to receive her Child Care WAGE$® supplements. She has been on WAGE$ since 2009, with ever-increasing supplement awards that reflected her ongoing education. “WAGE$ has helped me want to continue on with school,” Naukisha shared. “As a single mom at the time, my checks have helped me pay for child care and feed my kids. It helped me pay for books and classes. I don’t know what it hasn’t helped me do! Without WAGE$, it would be hard to stay in the business even though I love it. It has saved me from leaving the industry. I remember when my boys were starting school one year and I didn’t have the funds to buy what they needed. I had no idea how I was going to get through it. That Saturday, the WAGE$ check came. It was like Christmas because I could make sure my children had what they needed. They didn’t understand how hard things were for me.”

Naukisha uses her story to provide encouragement to other teachers in her child care program. 

“It gives them hope.”

Written by Marsha Basloe, CCSA President

My children were born in the late ‘70s, and I remember as a young parent having discussions with our realtor about whether there was lead in the paint of the very old house we were buying. Almost all houses built before 1970, at least in the U.S., contain some form of lead paint. The house we were buying was built much before 1970, and it was clear that we would have to sand and paint every room, change the plumbing and all the good things that come with owning an old home. And fortunately, we did all of that over time, very carefully.

I will admit, however, that I do not remember if lead testing was one of the many conversations I had with our pediatrician about the health and safety of our children. Today, however, it is an essential conversation to have!

Lead Poisoning Today

Lead poisoning has been in the news a lot over the last few months due to the concerning levels of lead found in the water supply of child care programs and its potential impact on the health and safety of the surrounding community. Currently, North Carolina does not require testing water for lead in child care programs, unless a child is found to have elevated blood lead levels. The news has been especially alarming for parents and families who work hard to keep their children safe and on a path to reach their fullest potential. Lead in the public water supply threatens that daily charge.

This issue is not only an issue specific to child care programs: An estimated 10 million Americans get drinking water from pipes that are at least partially lead.

Young Children are the Most at Risk

Young children are especially at risk of harm from lead. Babies and young children’s bodies are still developing and are in a critical life stage for brain development. When they are exposed to lead from water or other sources, it enters directly into the bloodstream where it can harm developing organs, muscles and bones. Infants who rely on formula get 100% of their nutritional intake from water. If that water is tainted with lead, they get an enormous dose of it compared with older children and adults.

Research shows there really is no safe level of lead exposure for a child. Even at the lowest levels of exposure, lead can reduce IQ and harm a child’s ability to concentrate and focus in school. These effects are permanent and can affect a child’s education, health outcomes and long-term earning potential.

Lead poisoning is preventable by identifying lead before children are harmed. The most important step that parents, teachers and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs. The North Carolina Commission for Public Health is proposing a change to a child care sanitation regulation that will significantly reduce exposure to lead for some of the youngest and most vulnerable children in our state. With U.S. Environment Protection Agency grant money to pay for the first round of testing, North Carolina can work to make drinking water safer for infants and young children without adding to child care costs.

Prevention: The Proposed Child Care Sanitation rule

We all know that prevention is the best medicine. The proposed child care sanitation rule is an example of a good preventative approach to lead exposure. The following requirements included in the proposed rule will help ensure that it protects children from potential lead in child care drinking and food prep water:

Testing for lead in drinking and food prep water every three years – Lead levels in water can fluctuate over time. Changes in water source or chemistry can cause leaching of lead from pipes into water, increasing water lead levels.[1] This is what led to the Flint water crisis. Additionally, unforeseen plumbing problems such as a dirty aerator or a partial clog can release lead from pipes into drinking and food prep water. Finally, improper maintenance of filters by child care operators can decrease the effectiveness of mitigation measures taken to prevent lead exposure.

Testing all buildings despite age – Buildings constructed after the 1986 Lead Ban may still pose a significant risk of lead contamination in drinking and food prep water. The ban, effective as of 1988, defined “lead free” as materials containing less than 8% lead, which allowed lead to remain in pipes that convey drinking water to homes and in fixtures and faucets in homes. An amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, effective as of 2014, redefined “lead free to require faucets and pipes to contain less than 0.25% lead; as such buildings constructed between 1988 and 2014 can still contain plumbing and fixtures with significant lead content.”[2] Testing all buildings despite age will ensure that no building poses a considerable risk of lead exposure.

Testing all taps – The concentration of lead in one tap is not indicative of the concentration of lead in all taps in a building. Lead concentration across taps can vary because lead can originate from an individual faucet, a dirty aerator or a filter that hasn’t been changed. Therefore, it is critical to test all taps to ensure safe child care center drinking and food prep water.

What You Can Do

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on lead poisoning that you can read and share.

Talk with your health care provider about lead screening. Lead screening measures the level of lead in the blood through a blood test in the finger or vein. It is important. Lead is a toxin that is particularly dangerous for young children because of their small size and rapid growth and development. It can cause behavioral and learning difficulties, anemia, seizures and other medical problems. A lead test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning. Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick. Talk to your doctor about this.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) provides free referral services to families seeking child care, technical assistance to child care businesses and educational scholarships and salary supplements to child care professionals through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®, Child Care WAGE$® and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ Programs. Through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center, CCSA licenses its successful programs to states across the country and provides consultation to others addressing child care concerns. Ensuring that every young child can grow and learn in a healthy and safe learning environment is central to our mission.

CCSA supports the adoption of this rule that would protect thousands of babies and children from lead exposure in child care drinking and food prep water. Additionally, requiring cost-effective mitigation where elevated lead water levels are found will have the added benefit of getting rid of other harmful toxicants such as copper and chlorine by-products.

In North Carolina, public health officials have been working for more than 30 years to eliminate childhood lead poisoning, and have come very close to doing so. Childhood blood lead levels have dropped dramatically population-wide. Unfortunately, some pockets of high exposure remain. Ending lead exposure in drinking and food prep water is an important step to move us toward the goal of no lead exposure for our state’s young children. The proposed amendment will help get us there.

The best way to protect kids from lead exposure is to be proactive about getting rid of lead, rather than waiting for a child to be found with elevated levels in their blood. To do so, we must be willing to get rid of toxic lead in children’s environments. This rule will help us do just that. You can show your support of this rule and submit your comment to the North Carolina Commission for Public Health by August 2, 2019.

Below, are more resources on lead poisoning.

Support Child Care Services Association’s work to ensure the first five years for all North Carolina’s children are happy and healthy. Make a donation today.


[1] For detailed scientific information about how changes in water chemistry can affect levels of lead found in water, see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353852/.

[2] EPA, Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water, https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/use-lead-free-pipes-fittings-fixtures-solder-and-flux-drinking-water (accessed 3 March 2019).

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Joe Coffey

Joe Coffey will earn his Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) from UNC-Wilmington next spring, and because of the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood® Scholarship program, he will do so debt-free. T.E.A.C.H. provides educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

Joe has had the desire to teach and engage families and children for 18 years serving as a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, public school administrator and training and technical assistance specialist. Now, while he pursues his M.Ed., he is the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Program Director for Onslow County Partnership for Children in North Carolina.

“I am a true believer in lifelong learning. I also feel it is our responsibility to model life-long learning for those that we serve,” Joe said. “I originally became familiar with the T.E.A.C.H. program when I was completing my associate’s degree. Fellow students shared the information with me.”

What is T.E.A.C.H.?

In 1990, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) created the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program to address the issues of under-education, poor compensation and high turnover in the early childhood workforce. In 2000, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center was established in response to the growth and expansion of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center is now offered in 22 states plus D.C. and has awarded over 150,000 scholarships since its opening.

T.E.A.C.H. is an umbrella for a variety of scholarship programs for those working in early education in North Carolina. Because of the complexities of the different scholarships, each recipient is assigned a specific scholarship counselor.

T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselors

Kimberly Bynum

Kimberly Bynum, who has been with CCSA for 22 years, is the program manager for T.E.A.C.H. North Carolina. One of her main duties is to provide counseling to graduate-level scholarship recipients like Joe. Those counselors are the reason Joe can say, “The process has been easy to use and to understand.”

“Joe is a great recipient to work with,” Kimberly said. “There’s not a lot of hand holding to do with him. He’s really proactive, but if there is ever anything missing, like when we do check-ins with our recipients several times throughout the semester, he’s very responsive to getting me what I need.”

Counselors play a vital role for T.E.A.C.H. scholarship recipients, helping them navigate through the many obstacles they may face while furthering their education.

“I do the same thing for Joe as I do for all my recipients. I make sure if they’re enrolled in school, we have the documents we need to go ahead and pay for their tuition upfront, because we don’t want anybody dropped…I usually go through and look at all my recipients, including Joe, to make sure we sent in the authorization to the colleges and universities,” said Kimberly.

And because of T.E.A.C.H., Joe will be able to graduate with his M.Ed. debt-free.

“T.E.A.C.H. has made it possible for me to continually build on my education from an Associate’s in Applied Science to a Master’s in Education without incurring a huge amount of student debt,” said Joe. “Early childhood education is a field in which the professionals are often underpaid and are themselves lacking resources. T.E.A.C.H. provides an avenue to advance education and careers while helping to avoid massive student debt.”

Kimberly finds her part in that process gratifying.

“What I really enjoy most about my position is…developing that one-on-one relationship [with the recipients],” she said. “It really just brings it all together when you’re at a conference or…attending graduations and you get to meet that person face-to-face…Especially at graduation, it makes you feel really proud, because you work with these people for so long, so they made it and they’re done.”

The Economic Impact of T.E.A.C.H.

Kimberly is also proud that T.E.A.C.H. has a wide reach that goes well beyond the scholarship recipient after graduation.

“We are empowering these scholarship recipients to [earn] more education, which in turn, they bring back into their facility, they’re better equipped to teach the children and then the children are ready for school when they start kindergarten.”

Once recipients complete their degree, they increase their marketability in the early childhood education system and may experience growth in their wages as well. In 2018, associate degree scholarship program recipients experienced an 11% increase in their earnings, with a low turnover rate of 8%.

“In addition, it’s increasing the star rating level as far as education goes for those facilities they’re employed in, making them more attractive to families, so increasing business that way,” Kimberly said. “Also, what [T.E.A.C.H.] does in the community…is increase the student enrollment in early childhood education departments [at participating universities and colleges]. So by T.E.A.C.H. sponsoring students at these universities and colleges, there is a positive economic impact on the North Carolina college system.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®️ Scholarship North Carolina, please consider donating today.

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.