As we say goodbye to T.E.A.C.H., we take a look at what it has accomplished

T.E.A.C.H. will move to RIAEYC at end of year

Nearly a decade ago T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®, a national program that seeks to increase the education and compensation of the current early childhood workforce, was looking to expand into Rhode Island. Ready to Learn Providence could see that the program aligned well with its mission, but administering it came with some risks as it didn’t come with funding.

Nevertheless, Ready to Learn saw its potential, and in 2010 it became the home of T.E.A.C.H. Rhode Island, with Maura Pearce installed as its director. After securing a few initial grants, Maura began promoting the program in the field and helping the T.E.A.C.H. scholars she had recruited navigate the often confusing world of higher education. Many of them had never been to college, or had been out of school for many years.

T.E.A.C.H. RI provides scholars (both center- and home-based educators) with scholarships that cover all or most of the tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. It also seeks to connect this increased education with increased compensation, which leads to better teacher retention.

Maura’s early work establishing T.E.A.C.H. RI paid off. When the state won the Race to the Top Early Challenge Grant in 2012 it allocated a sizable portion to the support of T.E.A.C.H.

Since 2010, 52 T.E.A.C.H RI scholars have received degrees — 35 associate’s degrees from CCRI and 17 bachelor’s degrees from RIC. By the end of the current academic year another 17 will have degrees. All of those who graduated from RIC were part of a T.E.A.C.H. cohort that made it possible for them to take classes in the evening, and to support one another as they worked through their degrees together.

“T.E.A.C.H. has made an extraordinary difference in the number of early childhood educators graduating from CCRI and RIC,” notes Leslie Gell, director of Ready to Learn Providence.

Although most T.E.A.C.H. scholars say college would have been out of reach for them without the scholarship, they will also tell you that the support they received from Maura and her staff was equally important. “Maura was always there for me,” says Deepani Ambalangodage, a teacher at Beautiful Beginnings and a member of the first T.E.A.C.H. cohort at RIC. She received her degree in May 2017.

The real beneficiaries are of course the children these providers care for. “College definitely made me a stronger teacher,” says Tammy Bourgeois, who earned her degree from RIC in 2016. “All the classes I took correlated with the work I do every day. The professors were great and I also learned a lot from the other students in the cohort.” Since receiving her degree, Tammy has been promoted to head teacher at Woonsocket Head Start.

At the end of this year, T.E.A.C.H. RI will operate under new leadership at the RI Association for the Education of Young Children. When R2LP became a program of Roger Williams University last February it understood that it could no longer house T.E.A.C.H. because the national organization precludes institutions of higher education from administering it.

It is with sadness that we must say goodbye to a program that has grown and flourished under our care, and to the many dedicated providers, administrators and others we have met along the way. Watching T.E.A.C.H. scholars work all day, take classes at night, and then study on weekends is inspiring. That we have helped make these journeys a bit easier is indeed gratifying.

“Working on behalf of T.E.A.C.H. has been one of the highest honors of my life,” says Maura. “I will forever be enriched by the memory of the enthusiasm, dedication and talent evidenced every day by scholars and sponsors alike. Each of those efforts remains a gift to children and families, and I know that each participant will continue to make a difference to many lives.  Thank you everyone, I will greatly miss you.”

Photos from top: Maura Pearce, left, confers with Deepani Ambalangodage; Bob Sousa; Rebecca Repoza; and Tammy Bourgeois, all current or former T.E.A.C.H. scholars.

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