June 13, 2022
Keeping Kids at the Center
By Adesha Armstrong
This kind of work we do? It isn't about us—it's about the kids. If we’re not holding kids at the center, then how can we truly serve them and play a pivotal part in shaping these future leaders?
I’ve been educating long before I knew what an educator was. I’m older than my brother by eleven months, and ever since he arrived I’ve been a nurturing little spirit. I taught him his ABCs, his numbers, his colors, and his shapes.
My grandmother tells me that when I was in Head Start, I would take over the classroom. I would regularly read books to the other children, even though I was still learning to read myself. I’d just interpret the pictures and read the words that I recognized, and when I encountered a word I didn’t know I’d pause and say, “Okay, well I’ll have our teachers go over that one.” Then I’d just keep going.
As I got older, kids continued to be drawn to me. And I continued to enjoy nurturing and pouring into people younger than myself! It’s hard to explain, but I’ve just always had a way with children.
Even in the family child care program that I run now, Early Adventures, my little graduates don’t want to leave me, and their parents don’t want them to leave either. “Miss Adesha, we love you. Can you please do kindergarten, too?” I remember how I started out in a full-time pre-med program at UMSL after high school, and then switched to school for early childhood education (ECE) at STLCC. It was a choice that many people didn’t understand, but I did. I am meant to pour into these young ones–it’s where I truly flourish. Here at my center, I know that I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing: providing the quality of experience that I want for every child and every family.
A message one of my ECE professors said still makes a strong impression on me. In his class, he always made sure to remind us of why we were there, and to keep the children at the center. “This kind of work we do?” he’d say, “It isn’t about us. It’s always about the kids. We have to keep the children at the center of what we do, because if you’re not really in this for the kids, then how can you really serve in shaping these future leaders? If you’re choosing this work because you think it is easier, for reputation, or some other personal reason, then this work is in vain.”
I am licensed to work with children that are 2-10 years old, and I know how crucial this age is for shaping major skills. How to interact with other children and adults, how to develop relationships, learn problem-solving and coping skills, and just the ability to learn in general. It’s so much more than learning ABCs and 1-2-3s. We are literally shaping their physical, social, and mental wellbeing, and laying the foundation for the rest of these children’s lives.
At Early Adventures, I take so much pride in my program because I’m not just focused on what they’re learning, but how they’re learning and how I can best support them in their full human development.
I had never really thought about advocacy work. As the sole operator of my in-home family care center, I had the mindset of, “I’m just a family care provider.” I knew there were major systemic issues at hand that make ECE work much more of a struggle, but what could I do about them? I was being supportive of my families in the fullest ways I knew how, and I didn’t yet know that more was possible.
I had always thought that it would be great to have a group of ladies in the field getting together and helping each other, but I had no idea that it already existed! Luckily, one day a couple friends of mine invited me to a gathering for ECE advocacy work happening in the community. I started meeting people who had similar passions, and I learned of work happening through WEPOWER. Work like the creation of the ECE Playbook (a community-designed roadmap to creating affordable and high-quality ECE in the St. Louis region), and the Power-Building Academy program (PBA) for leading community policy change. I started getting involved.
The more I showed up, the more my participation started changing me. And the more I got involved, the more I fell in love with it. Being a part of these groups, I get to share my heart, be heard, and literally watch how my participation makes a difference in shaping our community. I feel supported, and now see how much more my voice and actions can in turn support our community.
My voice and presence are just as important as all the other people at the table. Quality, affordable ECE is deeply important for our hard-working families and the futures of our incredible children, and it will be more supported in the region when we are more united. Taking part in the Playbook and PBA really laid the foundation for the advocacy work I do now, and showed me that along with being a great ECE provider, I can and must be an advocate for our region’s ECE.
Currently, I’m showing up at St. Louis County Council meetings, and I am speaking out for higher wages and community demands that allocate federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) directly into our region’s ECE system. With ECE, the biggest challenges are not our ability to care for the children or provide excellent programs, because we do that no matter what. Our biggest challenges are all about finances and access, and our current ECE policy demands can have a big impact on these.
Our two primary demands are for the county and city to fund the WAGE$ program and the T.E.A.C.H. MISSOURI scholarship. The WAGE$ program has the potential to support thousands of child care educators in St. Louis with stipends that supplement their traditional wages . The T.E.A.C.H. MISSOURI scholarship supports child care employers with tuition and reimbursements, paid time off to study, and an annual completion bonus.
Passing these ECE ARPA demands would enable me to hire another full-time staff person and complete my ECE education at STLCC that I had to pause while raising my daughter and running my center. I’d be able to focus more on creating life-changing experiences for the kids and families that I serve, and be able to serve even more families, right here in my neighborhood, at an affordable price.
I am not alone in this. With increased funding allocation through our ECE ARPA demands, great weights would be lifted from the shoulders of thousands of ECE providers in centers, schools, and home-facilities in our area. Child care providers would be able to operate their programs at the higher levels of quality we all know are possible–possible when we have better access to funding and opportunity.
As an advocate, I need you to understand that your voice matters and makes a difference. It's amazing how at one point I felt so small and I believed that my voice really didn’t matter. What good would getting involved or speaking up really do? But now, through working with WEPOWER and getting equipped with what I need to be able to share my voice and be heard, I see the power that each of us has and what’s possible when we activate our power together.
And we’re seeing the change happen. At the St. Louis County level, we are on the verge of passing our two demands that will bring millions into the ECE system and make keeping children at the center of our ECE work so much more possible. Showing up to the upcoming County Council meetings and adding your name to the ECE demands brings us one step closer to winning. One step closer to providing even more for our families and future leaders.
You can be an advocate, and you can make a difference. By showing up and joining the movement, you are keeping St. Louis children and families at the center.
Sign on to the ECE ARPA demands for St. Louis County ECE providers:
Show up and speak up at the following St. Louis County Council meetings to demand increased funding for ECE providers, programs, and families:
Written in partnership with Whitney Bembenek.