Emily Mulherin has always loved working with children. She’s currently an assistant teacher in the infant room at Brattleboro Centre for Children; in addition to her full-time job, she’s a student at CCV, pursuing an associate degree in early childhood education, and she has her sights set on finishing her degree and becoming a lead teacher. “She’s so determined,” said her CCV advisor, Leigh Marthe, “and so committed to working with kids.”

At an award ceremony Tuesday afternoon, Mulherin was gifted with a big boost to her momentum: a $2,500 scholarship from the Brattleboro Rotary Club Gateway Foundation. “I was pretty shocked and excited,” she said of finding out about the award. “It will help me take more classes. It’s giving me more reason to continue on.”

Historically, the Jesse M. Corum IV Scholarship, established in 2014, was given to a CCV student pursuing medical assisting, but this year the Foundation wanted to focus on early childhood education. “The coronavirus pandemic highlighted how essential childcare is; childcare providers are listed as essential persons,” said Gateway Foundation President Martin Cohn. “However, there is a shortage of early childhood teachers in Windham County.”

“If we can attract more providers, then we could possibly bring more businesses here because there is currently a lack of options,” Cohn added. “We wanted to help establish a livelihood for someone who will hopefully stay in the community, fill a much-needed profession, and help us grow,” Cohn said. By supporting CCV students, “the Gateway Foundation builds stronger bridges to both higher education and high-demand careers in Windham County.”

CCV provides a foundation for students and employees who want to begin, or advance, a career in childcare; in Marthe’s words, “CCV serves as a pipeline” into the field. “People have to get an education. We are the best venue for them to do that.” (Marthe’s speaking from first-hand experience; she is working her way through the classes in CCV’s childcare certificate program. “I really wanted to understand this on a deeper level,” she said.)

In addition to providing the educational foundation, CCV is working with partners across the community—and across the state—to build pathways for students, from a head start in high school to solid career opportunities. Marthe and others at CCV’s 12 locations are collaborating with high schools, technical centers, and employers to strengthen the childcare system as a whole. In Windham County, for example, Marthe works closely with local organizations, including Winston Prouty, the Windham Regional Career Center (WRCC), the Brattleboro Rotary Club, and others as part of the Child Care Counts Coalition, which is dedicated to increasing access to high-quality care across the region.

At WRCC, students can take advantage of free CCV classes in early childhood education through the State’s dual enrollment program. “The fact that CCV has partnered to offer so many dual enrollment classes is unbelievably fabulous for our kids,” said Nancy Wiese, the Career Center’s director. “To get a job, they need to have some work experience hours and need to have a Foundations class. Our goal is to get them more than that so that they’re moving up in the pay scale before they leave high school.”

She says the value of this jump start is huge in a chronically underpaid industry. “There’s such a high demand, and such a gap between the cost of training and certificates and what people make as they enter the field. The more education we can give [students] for free, the less debt they’ll have and the more ability they’ll have to remain in early childhood education.”

Emmalee Waite graduated from the Career Center in 2017, and completed her CCV degree last year. “By the end of high school I had over a semester’s worth of college credits all related to the field of early childhood education,” she said. She was also able to get her feet wet with the Career Center’s co-op program, volunteering at several different organizations and ultimately landing a job with Horizon Early Learning immediately after graduation. “Without the co-op and dual enrollment I would not have had that connection to the workforce,” she said. “It really opened so many doors.”

Waite knew she wanted to continue her education after high school, and chose CCV because it “was the most practical. It made sense for me to stay local. It was much more affordable. I felt like I could build on my [dual enrollment] credits and expand.”

Waite says she too has taken advantage of scholarships and financial aid, doing everything she can to save on her education; she’s now pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Northern Vermont University. Still, she says the low pay associated with her chosen career path hasn’t given her pause. “I was never all that hesitant because I had such a passion for these kids and these families. If I can make a difference, if I can help build that foundation that they’ll use the rest of their lives, there’s nothing better than that…If I can make a child want to continue their learning, that’s the best thing in the world.”

Leigh Marthe also served as Waite’s advisor when she was a student at CCV. By now, Marthe has built lasting relationships, not just with partner organizations in Windham County, but with countless students taking courageous steps into the field of childcare. She’s feeling optimistic: about alumni like Emmalee Waite; about the determination of her community partners; about the $2,500 check student Emily Mulherin received yesterday afternoon. “I wish that anybody who wanted to go into the sacred work of early childhood education could go for free,” Marthe said. “[Emily’s] scholarship really helps move us in that direction.”

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