Forum Newsletter – 2019 Summer Edition – From Criminal Justice to Early Childhood Leadership: A T.E.A.C.H. Scholar Shares Her Journey

April “Nickey” Williams always knew she would attend college when she graduated from high school. She was fascinated with the television show “Law & Order” and decided to major in criminal justice at the University of North Florida. After four years of classes and earning an bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, she realized that she didn’t want to work in that field.

“Trauma, crime, and victimization can be very heavy topics,” Nickey explained. “Although I had a true passion for criminal justice, it wasn’t my ultimate purpose or calling.”

After graduation, Nickey decided to attend graduate school in Washington, D.C. During that time, she received a call from her mother, an early childhood educator. She asked if Nickey would be interested in moving back to Jacksonville to help operate a child care program. Nickey jumped at the opportunity.

At first, Nickey was all business, handling the finances and paperwork in her role as the assistant director of Kidz Korner. She also filled in for teachers when they were sick and fell in love with teaching. Nickey sought opportunities to be in the classroom more and in the office less. Eventually, she decided to become a full time teacher.

“The joy in witnessing the growth and achievements of each student is an indescribable experience,” Nickey said.

New to the field, Nickey realized she needed to gain more early care and education knowledge. She began hearing about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for early educators to work toward a Florida Staff Credential, a Florida Director Credential, and an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in early childhood education. Operated through the Children’s Forum, T.E.A.C.H. helps to increase the education, compensation, and retention of the early learning workforce.

T.E.A.C.H. scholars agree to attend school and pay a portion of tuition. They also make a commitment to stay with their employer for at least one year after they complete a contract (typically 9-12 college credit hours within a year or upon completion of an FCCPC credential).

Several of Nickey’s co-workers received T.E.A.C.H. scholarships to earn their staff credential and had good things to say about the program. This led Nickey to apply to T.E.A.C.H. to pursue her own staff credential. This was just the beginning. Upon completion of her professional credential, Nickey decided to pursue a director credential. She was hungry for more knowledge.

With the help of her T.E.A.C.H. counselor, Nickey enrolled in a degree program at Florida State College at Jacksonville. She proudly graduated with her associate degree in early childhood education management, and was excited to implement what she learned in her classroom.

According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, the national turnover rate of early childhood educators is 30-40%. Turnover among T.E.A.C.H. scholars in Florida is low (less than 6%), which is partly due to the scholar’s commitment to their employer. This helps program administrators like Nickey retain a qualified workforce.

In addition to increased education, Nickey and other T.E.A.C.H. scholars receive a raise or bonus upon completion of each contract. The average raise increase is 8% for scholars in Florida. Scholars also receive three hours of paid release time per week while they are taking classes.

“T.E.A.C.H. allows early educators to earn credentials with financial assistance,” Nickey said. “Operating a high-quality ECE program can be costly, and any program that alleviates that burden helps.”

In 2017, T.E.A.C.H. began offering scholars the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in early childhood education leadership. Nickey knew this was something she was driven to do, and enrolled in graduate courses at the University of North Florida. With her family and colleagues’ support, she proudly graduated in August of 2018. As the first graduate to earn her master’s degree through T.E.A.C.H., Nickey is a legacy!

“This has been quite the journey for everyone,” she said. “My Kidz Korner family and I are so grateful to T.E.A.C.H., and I can’t wait to start implementing all of these amazing concepts into our program.”

Today, Nickey is working as an assistant director and assistant VPK teacher. She is proud to report that all of the staff at Kidz Korner hold a professional credential, courtesy of T.E.A.C.H. Nickey is making a difference in the lives of many children, their parents, and her staff. There is no doubt in her mind that all of her hard work was worthwhile.

For more information, on T.E.A.C.H., please visit teach-fl.org or call 877-FL-TEACH.