Bob Sousa’s career path has been long and circuitous, but all those past experiences serve him well, he says, now that he’s teaching preschool at the David C. Isenberg Family Early Childhood Center at the Dwares JCC in Providence.
Without the resources to go to college after high school, Bob spent his 20s, 30s and 40s in a wide range of jobs in the Boston area. He worked as a bookbinder for many years, and also as a store manager. For a while he ran a dry cleaning facility. When his children were young, he worked at night, sometimes in factories, so that he could stay home with them during the day.
“Throughout all those years, I always enjoyed spending time with kids,” Bob notes. “I always felt I understood them. As a volunteer firefighter, I loved letting the kids climb all over my truck and showing them how everything worked.” Bob also enjoyed teaching Sunday school for several years.
But nearly six years ago Bob and his wife, Liz, decided they were at a point where they could make a real change in their lives. When the Isenberg Early Childhood Center offered Bob a part-time position as an assistant teacher, Liz urged him to take it, despite the reduced income: “This is your dream job,” she insisted.
Within months, that part-time position became full-time. “I was an assistant teacher, and then a co-teacher, but this year, thanks to the college credits I earned through T.E.A.C.H., I’m a full-fledged teacher,” Bob says with obvious pride. He and co-teacher Liane Barnett oversee a class of 3- and 4-year-olds, an age group he particularly likes.
T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® RI, a program of Ready to Learn Providence, provides educators like Bob with scholarships that pay up to 90 percent for books and tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. Other benefits include release time for studying, and an annual bonus.
“I could never afford college without T.E.A.C.H.,” says Bob. “I look at the cost of the books, and I’m shocked.” The classes, he says, have helped him see why many of the things he did instinctively in the classroom work, or why, in some cases, other methods have proven to be more effective with young children.
Having been out of school for more than 30 years, Bob concedes that the idea of signing up with T.E.A.C.H. initially concerned him. “But the people I work with here at the center assured me I could do it, and I’ve gotten straight A’s.” Since starting three years ago, Bob has earned about half the credits he needs for an associate’s degree in early childhood education at CCRI. With increased confidence, he’s now taking two courses a semester instead of one.
“I think there’s a reason it took me 30 years to go to college and find this career,” Bob adds. The many skills he acquired over the years, he says, are now coming together in his classes at CCRI, in his preschool classroom and in his relationships with the parents of his students.
“I never thought I’d be embarking on a new career and a college degree at this age. I’m still shaking my head that this has all happened, but it’s very exciting.”
T.E.A.C.H awards scholarships to early childhood educators across the state who are pursuing coursework or seeking degrees in early childhood education. It then connects this increased education with increased compensation, which leads to better teacher retention. T.E.A.C.H. RI, a licensed program of Child Care Services Association, is funded by EXCEED, RI’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge initiative. Click here to learn more.
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