Mass 2-1-1 is a free, confidential, 24 hr, multi-lingual help line provided by the United Way. In addition to connecting people to non-emergency services such as counseling, substance abuse services, and resources for food, clothing, and shelter, Mass 2-1-1 has recently partnered with the MA Department of Early Education and Care to become a child care resource and referral agency. This means families can contact a Mass 2-1-1 agent in order to find a licensed child care provider. They can also contact Mass 2-1-1 in order to be placed on the income eligible waitlist for a child care voucher. Agents are trained in the eligibility guidelines and can place families on the list over the phone. Recent cutbacks in state funding have reduced the number of child care resource and referral locations around the state which has caused some early education providers confusion and frustration about where to find help for the families they serve who are struggling to pay for child care. Mass 2-1-1 provides a good way for providers and families to find answers over the phone to questions about voucher eligibility. In addition, BTWIC has begun collaborating with Mass 2-1-1 to provide a link on their site to our website where early educators are directed to find our materials on the Earned Income Tax Credit and student loans. This link should be made available in the near future. For more information, visit www.mass211help.org or www.mass211.org or simply call 2-1-1.
In this week’s blog post, we would like to recognize the significant contributions of Wheelock College President Jackie Jenkins-Scott to the field of early education. Through a focus on community involvement and a commitment to influencing public policy, Jenkins-Scott has been a key player in improving early education opportunities for children and families in MA. Jenkins-Scott became Wheelock’s thirteenth President in 2004. She has been a strong supporter of Wheelock’s excellent academic programs in early childhood education, which have been at the core of the college’s degree programs since Lucy Wheelock opened the institution almost 125 years ago. Today the commitment to early childhood persists and has a global impact, particularly in Singapore where Wheelock has graduated over 2,000 early educators who are working to improve the lives of children and families. Wheelock has a strong belief in connecting its students to the communities where they will be working; therefore all students complete a field placement in their freshman year to foster that connection. In Jenkins-Scott’s eight-year tenure she has intentionally built collaborative partnerships and created a space for dialogue to improve the ways that Wheelock and the surrounding community support children and families. This began in 2005 when Jenkins-Scott hosted the President Community Dialogues where 101 community leaders gathered at the President’s dinner table to inform Wheelock’s role as a convener and facilitator of important policy dialogue. In 2006 President Jenkins-Scott convened the first Annual Statewide Dialogue in Early Education and Care creating a space for practitioners and policymakers to discuss research, policy and practice issues impacting children and families. Now in its sixth year, the conference will convene this coming May 24th to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the field today. In 2007, Jenkins-Scott led Wheelock to open the Aspire Institute which manages several collaborations between the college and the community. Among its initiatives, the Aspire Institute partnered with the MA Department of Early Education and Care to launch the Center for Assessment and Screening Excellence (CASE), which will assist early education programs in implementing the MA Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) proscribed assessments. In addition, Aspire runs the Early Childhood Education Higher Education Access Project which helps early educators attain undergraduate degrees. These programs will help MA to improve the quality of early education programs throughout the state, and exemplify how, under Jenkins-Scott’s leadership, Wheelock is playing a pivotal role in shaping the field. Among her other key involvements in strategizing to improve early education in MA, Jenkins Scott served as co-leader of Governor Patrick’s Readiness Project which created a 10-year strategy for the Governor’s education plan. She also co-chaired Mayor Menino’s School Readiness Action Planning Team charged with eliminating the achievement gap, which led to Boston’s Thrive in 5 Program. Prior to her arrival at Wheelock, Jenkins-Scott was President and CEO of Dimock Community Health Center in Roxbury for twenty-one years. When she arrived at Dimock, it was failing and at risk of being shut down, but Jenkins-Scott was able to restore it to a vibrant community-based organization. Before her tenure at Dimock, Jenkins-Scott held several positions in the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Mental Health. Jenkins Scott received her Bachelor’s from Eastern Michigan University, a Master’s in Social Work from Boston University, and completed a Post Graduate Research Fellowship at Radcliffe College. She has Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Wheelock College, Suffolk University, Northeastern University, Bentley College, and Mount Ida College. Jenkins-Scott has received multiple awards including the 2010 Color Magazine Change Agent Award, the 2010 Visiting Nurse Association of Boston Lifetime Achievement Award, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts Legacy of Leadership Award, the Pinnacle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Boston University Distinguished Alumni Award. Her commitment to community involvement is further reflected in her service on several local boards including The Boston Foundation, The Kennedy Library Foundation and Museum, the Schott Foundation, Tufts Health Plan and Century Bank. We are thrilled at all Jackie Jenkins-Scott has been able to contribute to early education and care in Massachusetts.
Student loans are a hot button issue these days across the nation, as average student loan debt for new graduates has reached $27,300 . With pressure from the Department of Early Education and Care and from other advocates for high-quality care for teachers to get Bachelor’s Degrees, the daunting burden of student loans is having a direct impact on early educators. How should an early educator determine whether or not to further his or her education? BTWIC has been travelling around the state doing presentations to raise awareness among early educators about how to navigate the complex student loan system. We have several recommendations for early educators considering going back to get their degree, or for those of you who may already be working on a degree. For those considering beginning a degree program, the first step is deciding what kind of degree and where to apply. Things to consider include: cost, course curriculum, and schedule. The average cost for tuition and fees at a 4-year state school is $7,605 per year, a 2-year state school is $2,713, and a 4-year private college or university is $27,293 per year . Does the school you’re interested in offer Child Development Associate courses? Do they honor prior learning experience? Are evening classes offered? Answers to these questions can help you decide if an institution is the right place for you. Check out the MA Department of Early Education and Care’s website to find profiles on each of the colleges and universities that offer early education degrees here. Our next recommendations concern how to pay for your degree. One way to reduce the cost is to apply for grants or scholarships which do not have to be re-paid. The Massachusetts Early Childhood Educators Scholarship can provide up to $4,500 per semester towards an undergraduate degree in early childhood education. Be sure to check out the MA Department of Early Education and Care’s website to learn more about this important program. If you are offered student loans, meet with a Financial Aid Advisor to review your options and be sure not to take out more loans than are needed to cover your costs. It is much better to take out federal (government / public) student loans versus private loans as federal loans offer more flexibility in repayment options. Remember: when you take out student loans, you are responsible for paying them back, even if you don’t complete your degree! Some early educators may have already taken out student loans and may be having difficulty paying off the loans. In order to qualify for a scholarship or for additional loans, students must be sure that any existing loans are not delinquent or in default. If you are in this type of situation, call your lender and find out what you can do. You may qualify for income-based repayment, which can significantly lower your monthly payments, sometimes even to $0 per month depending on your income. One last program to be aware of when you consider getting a degree in early education is the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. If you have federal student loans and work in early education for ten years (starting in 2007), and are making regular payments on your loans, you may be eligible to have the remainder of your loan forgiven. If you combine income-based repayment and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you could be eligible to repay only a small amount of the loan over ten years and have the rest of the loan forgiven! This is a new program and the first opportunity to apply will be in 2017. If you have additional questions about student loans, check out BTWIC’s Student Loan Information Network. Our webpage includes a list of resources that can help with everything from financial aid applications to resolving defaulted student loans.
Last week the US Department of Agriculture and First Lady, Michelle Obama, unveiled new standards for school meals in order to address the overweight and obesity problem affecting one-third of American children today. The new guidelines are useful and should be considered by early education providers as well. The new standards require school lunches to include more fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, and to offer only low-fat or non-fat milk. These choices also reduce the amount of trans-fat, saturated fat, and sodium. For example, a sample menu would replace a lunch of a hotdog with ketchup, carrots and celery sticks, with a main course of whole wheat spaghetti, meat sauce, a whole wheat bun, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, and kiwi fruit. As early education providers know, healthy meals lead to healthy development—and that includes brain development, which is at its height during the first three years of life. Therefore feeding young children nutritious foods in early education settings is not just about combating obesity and establishing healthy eating habits, but also about promoting children’s brain development and cognitive functioning. When we consider the children in early education programs who are coming from low-income families that may not have consistent access to adequate, nutritious food, the importance of serving healthy meals is even more critical. Providers may be concerned that the cost of more nutritious food is too high. However, this is not always the case. Healthier choices can actually be cost-saving or equivalent to less healthy food choices. For example generic corn flakes are less expensive and healthier than Frosted Flakes, and whole wheat bread generally costs the same as white bread. Others may worry that children will refuse to eat healthier choices. There are many resources available online to help providers create healthier meals and increase children’s interest in trying new and healthy foods. Delaware has developed its own guidelines for programs that use the Child and Adult Care Food Program to reimburse them for meals for low-income children. They have published a tool kit which includes menus, recipes, and even shopping lists to help providers plan more nutritious meals. You can view the toolkit here. In MA, the Cooking Matters program which is part of the national Share Our Strength program, offers classes for providers and parents as well as a toolkit called “Exploring Food Together” available here. Early educators have an opportunity to provide children with nutritious meals they may not be getting at home due to economic barriers or lack of awareness of healthy options. Improving the nutritional quality of the food providers serve to children in their care improves the over-all quality of those children’s early education experience.