KU employee heads back to school thanks to company benefit

Nicole Woodward

Center Director Nicole Woodward completed her AA through T.E.A.C.H.

Imagine completing an associate’s degree in early childhood education without saving up for years, breaking the bank, taking time off work, or graduating with mountains of debt. With the T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) scholarship, it’s possible, and teachers, center directors, and even district managers across the Knowledge Universe family of brands are taking advantage of this unique opportunity.

“A degree was something I felt I was missing,” said Nicole Woodward, center director at Recker-McDowell KinderCare in Mesa, Ariz. “And with T.E.A.C.H., I was basically getting paid to go to school.”

When Woodward started the T.E.A.C.H. program five years ago, she was juggling being a single mom and an assistant director. With a packed schedule and tight budget, taking on the additional responsibility of completing her degree was daunting.

The T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program, offered through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center in partnership with KU, aims to nurture the career development of ECE professionals. The program is currently available in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

“I was able to work at my own pace, and I didn’t feel pressure to finish in the minimum two years,” said Woodward, who graduated with her degree in May of 2015. “I never had to stress, the expectations were realistic, and I never had to worry about going into debt.”

Woodward started the TEACH program as an assistant director to set a good example for her daughter.

“I wanted to show her that yes, you can get a job without a degree, but education is important,” she said. “Going to school gave me so many resources to bring back into my life and into the center.”

Woodward says her experience helps her meet the unique needs of every child in her center.

“The classes really aligned with my work experience and there was coursework on child guidance and classroom management,” she said. “I’m a better CD because of it.”

Her coursework even helped her communication skills with parents, said Woodward.

“It helps you communicate with families about things they want to hear, like how classrooms are managed,” she said.

“The opportunity for meaningful professional development is extraordinary,” said Abena Ocran-Jackson, director of teacher preparation at Knowledge Universe. “Teachers are able to return to their centers as a mentors and leaders.”

Knowledge Universe’s partnership with T.E.A.C.H. started two years ago. The program provides a stipend to pay for travel to and from school, books, and tuition. In most cases, participants pay less than 10 percent of the cost of their degree, alleviating a huge portion of the financial stress that hinders many adults from perusing additional education.

“Once I realized that being in early childhood education was what I really wanted to do, I wanted a degree to really solidify that,” said Woodward. “Now I have a great experience to bring back to my center. I see things in a different light—it’s not just black and white, there’s more color to it.”

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