It took two years and a lot of late nights, but this month, Joanna Smith will receive he master’s degree in education from UNCG. Joanna, director of St. John’s Child Develop-
ment Center, also received her undergraduate degree in human development and family studies from UNCG.
“I really needed to work on updating my skills as an administrator and early childhood education in general,” she says.
She was able to complete her studies through a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Masters Degree Scholarship, which seeks to build leadership of those who work in early childhood education. The online program is available through UNCG and UNCW.
“You log into and you’re talking to people,”Joanna says, “so it is a live class.”
Joanna took 37 hours of courses over two years, a full-time course load.
“It was very challenging,” Joanna says. She and her husband have five boys at home.
Most of the time, Joanna logged in from home at 5 pm, two days a week, for the two-hour course. She completed assignments typical for a graduate program, as well as an internship project that consisted of revitalizing Rowan County’s childcare directors’ association.
“That’s what my focus was,” she says, “and we made a good start.” She notes, “The degree helped me develop my leadership skills. I definitely have the current knowledge of trends and research that support early childhood education. I want to make sure I connect with other directors, because Rowan County does need help. I have a lot more insight and tools to work with as far as reaching out in the community and leading our staff to a higher level of quality.”
“I’m delighted that Joanna took on this challenge and successfully completed her degree,” says Pastor Rhodes Woolly. “The Child Development Center is already a five-star facility, but Joanna now has the capability to serve families in Rowan County at an even higher level of excellence. Her accomplishment also encourages our other CDC staff members to continue their educational goals. Congratulations, Joanna!”
To maintain a five-star ranking, Joanna explains, at least half of a center’s staff must have an associate’s degree. “The state is increasing regulations to reflect quality more so than basic standards,” she says, “so the staff will have to be more educated moving forward.” At present, 13 of the 35 CDC staff members have bachelor’s degrees, and other have associate’s degrees. Joanna hopes they’ll also be able to take advantage of scholarship programs the way she did through TEACH.
“You couldn’t turn that program down,” Joanna says. “It definitely was something I wanted to do for a long time. I just didn’t know how it was going to happen.”
Before she returned to school, she and her husband, who works as a church facility manager, talked with their sons about taking on more responsibility around the house.
“They tell you, don’t try to have balance,” Joanna says, “and that’s pretty much how it’s been the past two years.
So, we just did the best we could. The CDC staff has definitely been supportive. A good leader needs a good team.”
Joanna’s enthusiasm is contagious.
Kelly Kirk, a teacher in the 3-year-old class, recently talked with Joanna about returning to school to finish her bachelor’s degree. Of course, her boys are more excited about spendingthe night in a hotel for Joanna’s May 6 graduation at UNCG. But that’s OK with Mom. “We’ll have a good time,” she says.