Thanks to a partnership between the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (TEACH) initiative, early childhood educators across Arkansas can earn their Associate of Applied Science degree from UAFS for as little as $77 a semester.
UAFS is the first four-year institution in the state to offer this collaborative funding program aimed at empowering early childhood educators to further their education while allowing them to stay in the classrooms where they are greatly needed.
"We were so honored to be chosen as the first four-year institution to partner with T.E.A.C.H., as it is such an affirmation that we are providing the needed courses that cover the full range of birth to 5,” said Dr. Shelli Henehan, director of the Early Childhood, Preschool Program. "This program came along at the perfect time, as we have recently made the AAS in ECE a fully online program to meet the needs of our working early childhood educators."
The T.E.A.C.H. Arkansas initiative is a national, evidence-based strategy that creates access to higher education for teachers, directors and family childcare providers by funding comprehensive scholarships that bring the time and expense of going to school within reach.
Understanding the commitments of working adults, T.E.A.C.H. pays for up to six hours a semester and can also be used during summer sessions to shorten time to completion.
As scholarship recipients educators working full time (30 or more hours a week) in childcare facilities must attend classes and successfully complete courses working toward a certificate, diploma or associate degree in early childhood education. At UAFS these classes are offered entirely online, making the program even more accessible to working adults. As for cost, scholarship recipients are expected to contribute just 5 percent of the cost of tuition and only 10 percent of the cost of books each semester, totaling approximately $77 for a six-hour semester at UAFS.
At the end of the scholarship year, teachers may promise to continue to teach at their sponsoring center for another year and receive a $300 a bonus in return.
Mary Carroll, a preschool aid at Lavaca Elementary School, is currently enrolled through the T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program. When she first heard of the opportunity, she thought it was too good to be true, but when she walked into her classroom last October to find a note from her principal attached to the flyer, she realized it was a real – and perfect – opportunity for her.
“The T.E.A.C.H. scholarship gave me what I would have never achieved on my own,” said Carroll, whose income put her expected cost of attendance just out of reach. “Soon I will be able to call myself the classroom teacher, and that gives me an immense amount of pride. I love knowing that I can make a difference in a child’s life, and there is nothing better than seeing students from the past 13 years succeeding and loving school.”
“If I hadn’t received this scholarship, I would continue to work with children and devote my time to helping them further their education, but having my teaching degree will give me so many more opportunities to help my students be the best that they can,” Carroll added.
The AAS in early childhood education at UAFS provides students with the nationally recognized Child Development Associate (CDA) coursework in the first two semesters and grants students tiered stages of certificates, creating a pipeline of learning so students can earn additional compensation throughout their progress and master skills in blocks.
A Certificate of Proficiency is awarded after 13 hours of coursework, and a Technical Certificate after 26 hours. The AAS program also awards the Ages 3-4, Pre-K Endorsement for currently licensed K-6 teachers, enabling those who are already licensed, employed or pre-service teachers in elementary schools to obtain their early childhood endorsement, adding a coveted skill to their resumes.
T.E.A.C.H. scholarships are awarded based on need and commitment to the early childhood education field, as shown through information on the application and availability of funds. The funding for T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Arkansas comes from a sub-grant with the Arkansas Department of Human Services Child Care Quality Set-aside. The source of this money is the federal Child Care and Development Fund.
“I know there are people out there that feel the same as I did a short four months ago,” said Carroll. “It was a very easy application, and I was on the road to being a better me in no time. This is a goal that is totally achievable. I am finally doing something that I have wanted for so long. I feel like I can really do this, all thanks to this phenomenal program.”
For more information on T.E.A.C.H., interested educators may visit: https://arkansasearlychildhood.org/t-e-a-c-h/
Educators who would like to sign up for the program with UAFS may visit with Ronnette Haynes, the Early Childhood, Preschool Program's outreach/coaching coordinator, at 479-788-7605 or e-mail her at Ronnette.Haynes@uafs.edu. UAFS faculty and staff members are willing to guide groups of participants through the application and financial aid process, if needed.