Social Impact

Talking with Kayla Johnson, FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Clay Studio

A second Fellow will join The Clay Studio in 2024. Thanks to the team at The Clay Studio for creating and sharing this video with us! 

Picture of Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson

Kayla (she/they) is the After-School Program Coordinator & FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia.

SHARE THIS STORY

Feature image by NAME OF PHOTOGRAPHER, courtesy of LINK TO NAME OF SOURCE . Please do not open link in new tab as it messes us accessibility.

Day in the Life: Teaching Artist

In my role as an FAO Fellow here at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, I get to enjoy lots of variety in my day-to-day experience. My direct service work in the fellowship is working with Claymobile, our mobile engagement community program. The majority of this work is centered around teaching ceramic classes in schools, but I also get to teach in community centers, libraries, and farms. I began in this role acting as a teaching assistant, which means that I worked with the lead teacher in setting up the materials necessary for the class and supported students in their creative process. More recently, I have begun lead teaching in classrooms; it has been a wonderful process starting from having no knowledge about ceramics, to learning how to assist, then to leading a residency. Last week, I had my first class lead teaching at Steel Elementary. I started my day at the studio packing all of the necessary materials and then driving to the school. On arrival, we bring all of the materials to the classroom and introduce ourselves to students. 

Each day at work is different and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

As a lead teacher, one of the main components is teaching a demonstration of the ceramic project we will be completing. For this particular class, we made coil bowls which are made of small ceramic spirals using a plastic bowl as a mold. During my demonstration, I focused on the feeling of the clay as it was many student’s first experience with it. Teaching how to make a coil, how to smooth the inside of the bowl, and glazing are some of the main focuses for this project. After the demonstration, the rest of the class is spent moving around the classroom, checking in with students and answering any questions that arise. Many students shared ideas of projects they want to make in the future, what they might eat out of their bowls and share information about themselves and their families. The classroom teacher took pictures of each student with their finished bowls and we said goodbye, all in under two hours. 

After a Claymobile class, I’ll switch over to my special project work which is teaching in our new after-school program. The after-school program started last year, and we are now working with four schools in the area. After unpacking and taking lunch, I’ll set up our studio with the tools and demonstrations necessary for our class. Then, I walk to the school that we work with that day to pick up students at dismissal. After all of the students arrive, we walk to the studio together. Once we arrive, we have snacks and homework help which is necessary time for students to relax and connect with each other. Then we switch to studio time. Teaching in the after-school program can be similar to the style of Claymobile teaching, but as it is a smaller group who have had practice in multiple making techniques, it runs more independently. Some days we offer a full demonstration, others are free-making days where students choose what they want to make, but most days fall somewhere in between. This is a long-term program for students, so the curriculum is built particularly for the students from each school. Connecting with students on a weekly basis is one of my favorite parts of my job, and being able to provide a fun and safe space for students to make art and chat with friends. Working within the after-school program lends itself to a stable consistent schedule which is nice for me and Claymobile gives my schedule some flexibility and fun. Each day at work is different and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Picture of Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson

Kayla (she/they) is the After-School Program Coordinator & FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia.

SHARE THIS STORY

Reflecting on College and Finding Your Passion

Being in a space of reflection is always uncomfortable for me, but I find that I feel at my best when I am living in that discomfort. I’m reaching the halfway point in my first year with the fellowship, I am starting my goal-setting process at Jumpstart, and in a week and a half, I will be back in Baltimore for my first-ever Alumni weekend. So as I am typing this, I am nose-deep in that reflection discomfort. Hopefully what follows will be helpful for my friends in the fellowship, for myself, and for everyone who has just submitted an application for the 2024-26 fellowship cohort as you head toward graduation and discern if this fellowship is right for you. 

Looking back, looking forward, and looking to where I am now—I realize being present is the secret... It connects you to your senses and helps decide if what you’re doing serves your passions or not.

As I begin this process, and ask trusted coworkers, friends, and family members about navigating professional goals and my early 20s, I have also been thinking back on some of the things I was told when I started college in August 2019 (a completely different world). I remember so much emphasis being put on what my major would be, how I would plan out my class schedule to help me four years down the line, and what clubs I wanted to participate in to make me a strong internship candidate for junior year.  I remember being told that the next four years would be “the best years of my life.” When I look back, I see how unnecessary and harmful that could have been—if it weren’t for Loyola University Maryland’s… shall we say… comprehensive core requirements that forced me to try a little bit of everything and fall in love with learning again. I think we are doing ourselves, and society, such a disservice when we are constantly forward-focused. The purpose of college should not be, and never before was, to set up whatever comes next. College, for those lucky enough to go, is the one time in life where you can learn for the sake of learning. There is no one handing you a curriculum that you can’t deviate from; there are so many options,and through (excuse the cliché) casting a wide net you might just stumble upon your life’s passion. 

As someone who was an overachiever, and whose high school extracurricular list looked like Santa’s Christmas list, I entered college with a clear trajectory. I would take a mix of political science classes but focus on constitutional law, take the LSAT, and apply to law school. I had a ten-year plan mapped out which included moving to New York and becoming a district attorney. But at 1:05 pm on my first day of class I walked into PS 101, Introduction to World Politics taught by an incredible political theorist. His charisma, and brilliance, and ability to make his students engage in questions that have been asked for millennia made me reconsider. I walked out of that class still sure I wanted to go to law school, but thought I might need to take some more classes with him (I would go on to take 5 with that professor—ranging from democratic theory to a seminar on warfare). Class after class, semester after semester I was exposed to things outside of my ten-year plan. Loyola required me to take two philosophy classes, the second of which was dedicated to a small segment of philosophy focused on the environment (recall my mention of stumbling upon passion).

But still, my life and career plan persisted until the summer between sophomore and junior year when I was studying for the LSAT and realized I actually had no desire to be an attorney. I cared about the law, sure, and I have research and debate skills, so I could be successful. But it wasn’t what I cared about. I remember walking up to the living room where my mom was watching a rerun of M*A*S*H, and breaking down in tears because I now had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Except I did. I did because rather than restricting myself to taking only the classes that would direct me to where I thought I wanted to go, I discovered that I was passionate about environmental justice and peace studies. 

I am where I am today, setting goals for the next fiscal year, and thinking of how I am going to make an impact because of that mindset I took in college. I took the fellowship because it gave me the opportunity to do meaningful work while being part of a network of fellows doing incredibly cool and different work than me. Hearing about Kayla’s work had made me want to rent a pottery wheel, and visiting Sarika and Natalia at their museums in New York City inspired me to spend my Sundays visiting different museums in Boston. 

This exposure to difference has been the key to my journey so far. Looking back, looking forward, and looking to where I am now—I realize being present is the secret. Being present connects you to your community. It connects you to your senses and helps decide if what you’re doing serves your passions or not. Most importantly it connects your heart to your mind. So to anyone reading… try everything and your life’s passion will uncover itself. 

Picture of Ryan Corrigan

Ryan Corrigan

Ryan (he/him) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart in Boston.

SHARE THIS STORY

Why I Chose Breakthrough as My Host Organization

When I was admitted into college, I could not express how unpredictable my journey up to that point was. Little did I know that, at a point when I thought I had a general idea of what my life would look like during and after my time in higher education, I would encounter the same unpredictability.

I was raised in an area where schools didn’t always have the most resources to cater to their students. During my time in elementary school, in parent-teacher conferences, my teachers would consistently express to my parents how they should pull me out of my current school and get me to apply to magnet schools, if not move to another district area. Initially, my family was able to get me to another school district for my fourth-grade year. The difference was immediately noticeable in the sheer amount of resources that the school and teachers had at their disposal. The school I attended had an ‘Exemplary Campus Distinction’ that followed them for years, indicating that the students performed highly academically. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sustainable for me to continue my education at that school, so I returned to my designated elementary school to finish my time there, all while looking into and applying to magnet schools to continue my middle school education. 

[Breakthrough's] devotion to long-term support for students, focusing on low-income students of color in sixth grade through college, is something that I wish I had growing up.

I completed the remainder of my middle and high school years in magnet schools. While my time in these schools proved to be very stress-inducing, challenging, and overwhelming, it overall prepared me for the standardized tests that would prove useful when applying to college. They also exposed us to many opportunities to grow professionally, from partnerships they had with outside organizations/institutions to providing us with courses diving into specialized topics of our choosing that we wouldn’t otherwise find in other schools. They taught us to write resumes, cover letters, answer college admissions questions, how to conduct ourselves in interviews, etc. As a first-generation student, these schools became a learning ground for both my family and me. 

All of that being said, it also was a very toxic space to be in. These schools train students to excel academically and do everything possible to present an impressive profile for recruiters, whether for college or their careers. However, they failed to create an environment where students were seen beyond their grades and achievements, they failed to create a space that allows for a student to view themselves holistically. I remember the competitiveness of students with one another reaching boiling points, with rankings hinging on minute differences in overall GPA between students. Some students who transferred out of these schools even managed to rank #1 in their designated public schools, a stark contrast to their standing within the competitive environment.

After being admitted into college, some of my colleagues and I, as first-gen students of color, imagined ourselves pursuing medical or law school, aspiring to become successful professionals in our respective fields. After having a long conversation with myself, and really questioning the reasoning behind my actions, I realized my passions didn’t align with medicine or law. So, I began to explore other areas of interest and found myself studying Anthropology and Race and Ethnicity Studies for the remainder of my time in college. In my final year, I focused my capstone project on the reproduction of whiteness in higher education institutions, with a specific focus on the Hispanic and Latinx communities. Through the project, I was able to reflect on my own experience, as well as interview others to gather narratives of everyone’s journey through the education system. 

My path post-graduation didn’t become clear until less than a month before attending my commencement ceremony. I remember the anxiety when thinking about my next steps and whether I would even find something that would fulfill me and allow me to continue to grow. I knew that I would be interested in joining a non-profit organization, but then found myself debating what cause I would search for. In my search, I came across the FAO Schwarz Fellowship and found myself intrigued by Breakthrough Greater Boston. Their devotion to long-term support for students, focusing on low-income students of color in sixth grade through college, is something that I wish I had growing up. The organization takes the valuable resources of magnet schools while eliminating the toxic competitiveness and individualistic mindset, and emphasizing key values like spirit and student-centeredness. I chose Breakthrough, as it was a natural transition toward my interests and future aspirations. 

Since being at Breakthrough, I have learned a lot of things that I did not even throughout my time in college. As my time in the fellowship is coming to a close, I find myself in a similar position as I have in the past, uncertain of what’s to come. What’s different now is that I’ve learned to live with uncertainty, embracing what’s to come in this next chapter of my life and carrying with me all the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Breakthrough has let me have a hand in college success work, engage in programming throughout the school year and summer, delve into development and operations, and foster alumni relations. Although my future remains uncertain, I feel better equipped to tackle what comes next as I continue pursuing my interest in the social impact sector.

Picture of Juan Mojica

Juan Mojica

Juan Mojica (he/him) is the College Success & Alumni Coordinator FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston.

SHARE THIS STORY

Classroom Inequality: Bridging the Gap at Breakthrough

​​Pursuing a Fellowship at Breakthrough Greater Boston was a natural next step after college, given my passion for alleviating classroom inequality. Majoring in sociology ignited my passion and revealed a sense of connection to the field as I pursued an undergraduate degree. My studies uncovered many social patterns that contributed to personal challenges I originally thought affected me by chance. As a Black, second-generation immigrant from a working-class, single-parent household, I recognized my own experiences with sociological concepts. The connection between child-rearing styles, socio-economic status, and classroom inequality was a particularly interesting topic that provided an explanation for the challenges I faced as an underrepresented minority attending a predominantly white institution. 

As I assist in middle school programming, interacting with students who attend the same middle and high school I graduated from... it often feels surreal to contribute to the outcomes of students that I see myself within.

Literature on classroom inequality suggests there is a causal link between a family’s socioeconomic status, their understanding of classroom expectations, and the way they teach their children to navigate their academics. This can critically affect the course of a student’s education journey, especially when compared to their wealthier peers. To counteract these roots of classroom inequality, programming at Breakthrough involves an intensive academic curriculum from middle to high school, tiered social-emotional development, and exposure to college—with hopes of assisting students in building a college-going identity and skills for college success. Students experience these layers to Breakthrough via afterschool programming in the fall and spring, all before our rigorous summer program. The full day of classes and research-based programs that Breakthrough students complete throughout the six weeks directly combats the achievement gaps that widen during summer vacation. 

Breakthrough’s early academic intervention works to dismantle and replace harmful academic messaging that students may have received, all while celebrating student identities in a close-knit community that values academic and social-emotional health. Breakthrough cultivates a setting in which students foster a personal love of learning and hone their sights on getting to college, where they can feel confident to succeed. Breakthrough’s college success focus encourages academic skills and social behaviors that promote persistence and college graduation. From entering the program in seventh grade to their transition to college, Breakthrough students demonstrate executive functioning, critical thinking, and self-advocacy: skills that working-class students must exhibit to level the unequal grounds of the college classroom. 

With an in-depth understanding of the perpetuation of classroom inequality, Breakthrough’s mission of inspiring enthusiasm for learning as well as creating paths to and through college stood out to me when I was selecting which Fellowship host to apply to. It was important to me that my future host organization was committed to intervening in the academic trajectories of working-class students, allowing them the privileges of their middle-class counterparts through their long-term, life-changing programming. As I assist in middle school programming, interacting with students who attend the same middle and high school I graduated from in my own small community within Boston, it often feels surreal to contribute to the outcomes of students that I see myself within. When I reflect on the role of Breakthrough in my community, I am certain that if I had participated in the program I would have been more prepared to face the stratified challenges of my predominantly white institution. 

Witnessing Breakthrough’s impact firsthand fuels my dedication to shaping positive student outcomes and addressing classroom inequality for future generations. My journey with Breakthrough Greater Boston is not just a Fellowship; it is a commitment to making a lasting impact on the lives of students and fostering a more equitable educational landscape.

Picture of Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali (she/her) is the Marketing & Communications FAO Schwarz Fellow Breakthrough Greater Boston.

SHARE THIS STORY

A group pf Fellows poses for a selfie!

How the Unique Benefits of the Fellowship Enhance Opportunities for both Fellows and Nonprofit Host Partners

The Fellowships are designed not only to support the development of young social impact leaders, but also to increase the capacity of their nonprofit host organizations.

Last year, Fellows really did "lead the change" by working to pass legislation, helping to create and expand key programs to better serve their communities, and growing host's partnership networks.

Here are just a few examples of their recent accomplishments:

Ryan at a ppdium in the statehouseRyan Telingator, FAO Schwarz Fellow ’23 at Jumpstart in Boston, collaborated with partners and advocated for legislation in Massachusetts that would increase educator compensation, provide direct-to-provider funding to stabilize programs, and increase the state’s financial assistance to families to help make programs more affordable. (see blog postwritten by Ryan). Recently, in collaboration with his supervisor, he successfully lobbied for Jumpstart to receive a “historic” $350,000 in the Massachusetts state budget, enabling them to expand their programming and impact throughout the state. 

His supervisor shared: “Even after a leadership transition at Jumpstart, Ryan continued to lead this effort, securing additional support for the budget amendment with an increased ask of $450,000. Ryan’s leadership within the Common Start Coalition, advocating for accessible and affordable early care and education (ECE), has also been instrumental. Despite initial setbacks in passing the Common Start bill, Ryan and the coalition remained committed to reintroducing it in this session, and their efforts have led to two bills aligned with the Common Start vision in the House and Senate. Ryan’s dedication to lobbying legislators and raising awareness about ECE has been impeccable. He currently holds a significant leadership position on the coalition’s steering committee.” 

Ryan has spoken at the State House for a briefing, provided policy resources to journalists and coalition members, met with Governor Healey’s staff, and contributed to a historical budget increase for ECE. 

Nia Atkins smiles for photoNia Atkins, FAO Schwarz Fellow ‘23 at Year Up in New York City, led the Year Up NY/NJ site’s Learning Community “Look Back, Look Ahead” meetings since August 2022. Her supervisor shared, “These meetings are key moments for the Year Up NY/NJ staff community to gather and reflect on the journey of our participants after a class has graduated from the program. Nia has done an excellent job of sifting through the key performance data of our cohorts such as retention, attrition rates, and job conversion data. The Look Back/Look Ahead report and meeting also supplies qualitative data about our participant’s experience throughout both their Learning and Development and Internship phases which gives staff a valuable snapshot of how our young people performed and felt while going through this journey with us.”

To execute these meetings and ensure valuable data was captured and analyzed, Nia collaborated closely with both the Program and Internship teams, and improved and streamlined the data visualization aspect to make the information more accessible. Additionally, Nia served as a coach to young adults in the program, mentoring participants through the program, and supporting them with interview preparation, resume improvement, public speaking, and presentation skills (see blog post written by Nia).

"The Fellowship exerience can be a truly transformative—not just for our Fellows, but also for our host partners"

Kira with Dinosaurs

Kira Azulay, FAO Schwarz Fellow ’23 at the Museum of Science in Boston, led two youth events as part of a new  High School Science Series program focused on the themes of mental health and climate justice. Kira was responsible for securing and hosting guest speakers, creating an educator guide for teachers, and coordinating logistics for on-site set-up and evaluation. At each event, there were about 200 high school students in attendance who were able to ask questions of the panelists and then participate in hands-on projects at the Museum. Kira reflected on her experience as an FAO Schwarz Fellow in this video. 

Kira has increased the Museum’s capacity to invest in youth development and intentionally think about their practices when engaging with young people. Her supervisor shared, “In Year 1 of her Fellowship, Kira researched and cataloged youth organizations in Massachusetts and other states to help us better understand how various organizations support youth through education and employment opportunities. She also curated a literature review related to working with youth which we hope to use as a resource for potentially forming a youth council in the future. In Year 2 of her Fellowship, Kira had the chance to develop and lead content and events for youth as part of our High School Series Program. Both events afforded Kira the opportunity to put youth engagement strategies to practice as she sought to find topics, speakers, and activities that would both interest and resonate with youth.”

Vanessa at The Food Project
Vanessa Barragán, FAO Schwarz Fellow ’24 at The Food Project in Boston, focuses in part on community engagement through their Build-A-Garden program, where they support Boston residents in growing their own food through the installation of raised garden beds (see blog post written by Vanessa). Her supervisor shared that Vanessa is “doing an incredible job managing the Build-a-Garden program.  Building on her work, The Food Project plans to double its impact, moving from 50 installations per year to 100 installations per year. ” 

Sophie and a colleague share information about Audubon Mid-Atlantic at a table.

Sophie Becker-Klein, FAO Schwarz Fellow ’24 at Audubon Mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, has grown partnerships with schools in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood where she is providing weekly lessons on environmental education (see blog post written by Sophie). Sophie’s supervisor wrote: “Sophie and I, through a series of meetings, developed a school-year schedule for her teaching Audubon lessons in class at our priority schools. These lessons included birds and bird migration, Healthy Watersheds and healthy Delaware River, bird adaptations, and Weather vs. Climate were specifically chosen by Sophie to encompass the full range and impact of Audubon. Sophie will be interacting with all grades in these schools. This is the first time Audubon Mid-Atlantic has had the resources to fully commit to multiple schools and this work could not be done without Sophie.”

SHARE THIS STORY

Sophie and a colleague share information about Audubon Mid-Atlantic at a table.

The Importance of Deep Community Engagement

A normal day at work for me usually involves at least one bird, between one and three classrooms, and what feels like infinite students greeting me as I walk down the hallways with hugs and shouts of “Hey, Ms. Sophie,” or “Look, there’s the bird lady!” In my nine months in Philadelphia with Audubon Mid-Atlantic, I have learned that everything we do is community-driven. In my role, I engage with three schools on a weekly basis, providing four lessons per grade over the course of the school year. As I have spent week after week at these schools, I have continued to see the importance of not only being engaged with the community, but having deep roots, particularly in the local schools.

Although it is widely accepted that nature centers that are perceived as part of the community have a broader base of support, many nature centers have operated for dozens of years without deeply listening to the community.

It may seem repetitive to teach four lessons to every grade at the same school, but this continuity is what creates deep community engagement. As my supervisor, Damien Ruffner told me, “It can feel like you’re completing the same steps over and over, but you have to make yourself a consistent presence in the community.”

Environmental education researchers have found that community members are more likely to be involved in their local nature centers when their local centers are actively involved in the community. In other words, by becoming integrated into the learning of local students, my role is to not only teach them about environmental issues, but also help them feel comfortable enough to come visit the Discovery Center, where Audubon-Mid Atlantic is housed, on their own time with their families.

Although it is widely accepted that nature centers that are perceived as part of the community have a broader base of support, many nature centers have operated for dozens of years without deeply listening to the community, much less incorporating community feedback into their programming. In recent years, many centers have realized that they need to incorporate community members into their boards, leadership, and employees, and they are now making up for lost time. While a nature center may come in with the best intentions, going by what they think the community needs instead of what the community thinks they need, hurts centers’ community engagement.

The Discovery Center sits right next to the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir, which is now a lake that is preserved for animals and the people who want to take in this beautiful natural space. However, the reservoir (once a source of drinking water for the surrounding areas) was closed to the public in 1970. It was only re-opened to the public when the Discovery Center was founded in 2018. From the beginning, the Discovery Center operated with a community engagement committee, which continues to serve as an advisory committee that makes many of the programming, budgeting, and hiring decisions.

Every day, I go out on our .75 mile, out-and-back trail, run into at least one person from the local community, and get to chat with them. Often, they will tell me how they remember when this land was a reservoir and it was not open to residents. Now, they have the opportunity to access this natural space that was once closed off. The organizations housed at the Discovery Center feel that providing access to the community will allow community members to feel healed by and connected to nature. And maybe that is what deep community engagement is really about, helping the community feel ownership of and comfort in the spaces that should have been open to them from the beginning.

 

Browning et al. Factors that contribute to community members’ support of local nature centers (2018). Environmental Education Research.

“The Discovery Center” https://www.discoveryphila.org/

 

 

Picture of Sophie Becker-Klein

Sophie Becker-Klein

Sophie Becker-Klein (she/her) is FAO Schwarz Fellow at Audubon Mid-Atlantic's Discovery Center in Philadelphia.

SHARE THIS STORY

FAO Schwarz Fellow Ryan speaks from a podium at the Massachusetts State House

A Vision for Early Care and Education

Early care and education (ECE) is a fascinating field to work in. It is so multifaceted, with a plethora of stakeholder groups including children, families and caregivers, educators, program directors, and employers. I have been able to interact with many of the stakeholders throughout my Fellowship, and learn at least one new thing every day – about brain development, teaching credentials, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care’s financial assistance program, and more – and anticipate that that will be the case for my entire time working in ECE. The field is so important, and I feel grateful to be a part of the early education community!

I have the absolute privilege of working every day in service of Jumpstart’s vision that one day every child in America will enter kindergarten prepared to succeed.

The children involved – aged 0 to 5 – are in the most developmentally significant phases of their lives. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child explains that “early experiences affect the quality of [brain architecture] by establishing either a sturdy or fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow,” with more than one million neural connections forming every second. Research finds that participating in an early care and education program as a child has positive effects throughout an individual’s life: participants are less likely to be placed in special education, have increased college graduation and employment rates, and have long-term health benefits.

It is evident that early care and education is vital to child development and life outcomes. It thus should not be controversial to suggest that all children, no matter income or zip code, should have the opportunity to access ECE. All children can access – and are legally compelled to attend – publicly funded schools (i.e. public schools) from ages five to 16, give or take a few years depending on the state. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, that is not the case in the early years. Instead, the ECE system is – as described in a Bank Street Education Center report – a “haphazard patchwork of [publicly subsidized] resources [that] leaves the rest to find care in a severely broken private-pay marketplace that few families can afford.”

A recent brief from the United States Department of Labor highlights the lack of affordability of early care and education. “In 2018, median childcare prices for one child ranged from $4,810 ($5,357 in 2022 dollars) to $15,417 ($17,171 in 2022 dollars) depending on provider type, children’s age, and county population size.” With such exorbitant costs, family contributions range from between 8% and 19.3% of the median family income; an already burdensome cost that only increases with each child. A Boston Globe analysis of the Department of Labor’s data found that all 14 counties in Massachusetts rank in the top 100 nationally for the cost of infant care, with Middlesex and Norfolk counties costing more than $26,000 annually—costs that rank in the top three nationally.

Such high expenses sometimes force parents to leave the workforce to minimize the cost of child care, a decision that often falls onto working mothers. High quality early care and education is now recognized as “a critical piece of the workforce infrastructure,” and as “fundamental to the success of… local econom[ies].” The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that “lack of access to child care in Massachusetts is resulting in at least $2.7 billion each year in lost earnings for individuals, lower productivity and additional costs for employers, and lost tax revenue for the Commonwealth.”

And then there’s the heart of ECE: the educators, program directors, and other folks associated with keeping the programs running. These folks spend their entire days educating (facilitating literacy, linguistic, and social-emotional development), navigating interpersonal conflicts over the destruction of block towers, and nurturing the kiddos so parents and caregivers can work. It is important to clarify that the high cost of care for families does not translate to high wages for educators. To the contrary—Directors know that the cost is already unsustainable, so they are loath to increase them any more to facilitate corresponding wage increases. As a result, early educators receive poverty wages. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California Berkeley, child care workers made $11.65 per hour in 2019; a wage that ranks in the 2nd percentile of all jobs. They could earn more working at a Dunkin! Early educators – who are predominantly women of color – are overworked, undervalued, and underpaid.

The CSCCE data shows that educators could leave the field and go teach kindergarten at a public school and earn $30,000 more per year. The same goes for teaching pre-kindergarten at a public school. That’s not right.

The United States spends significantly less per child on early care and education compared to other countries. Seen as a private market instead of a public good, the burden is on parents and caregivers to pay exorbitant amounts to get their kids into care. The system is broken. The system is in crisis. Children, families, educators, programs, and the economy are all affected because of the country’s lack of investment in the industry. This is an economic equity, gender equity, racial equity, and educational equity issue. It is easy not to see the forest through the trees amidst the compounding equity issues. However, at the core of it all, one fact remains: all children deserve an accessible and affordable early care and education experience, and educators should be compensated commensurate with public school educators with similar credentials and experience.

In my capacity as a FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart, I have been welcomed into early education centers where I met wonderful directors, educators, and kiddos. I have also met with legislators in the Massachusetts State House and advocated for bills that would increase educator compensation, provide direct-to-provider funding to stabilize programs, and increase the state’s financial assistance to families to help make programs more affordable.

I have the absolute privilege of working every day in service of Jumpstart’s vision that one day every child in America will enter kindergarten prepared to succeed. It’s the best job in the world.

Picture of Ryan Telingator

Ryan Telingator

Ryan (he/him) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart in Boston.

SHARE THIS STORY

Fellowship Alums Share Social Impact Resources

We asked current and alum Fellows to share their perspectives on their careers, social challenges, and resources that have influenced them in their careers, and more broadly, the world of social impact. This is the final part of a four-part series.

What is the most interesting book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to on social impact?

Julia MacMahon ‘10: 

I just finished listening to season 5 of Scene on Radio: “The Repair”, which explores the roots of the climate crisis and what went wrong with our (the West’s) relationship with the natural world. It’s really thought-provoking and has helped me to place a lot of my feelings of ambivalence about the modern world and how many of our systems function.

Jesse McLaughlin ‘24:

Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway is a potent reminder of the interconnectedness of all creatures (human and non-human) in the messy struggle for justice and equity on a damaged planet.

Kayla Hopgood ‘14:

An important read for me was Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church. The author, Hannah Malcolm, basically makes the argument that in order to make any sort of meaningful impact on the climate crisis we need to learn how to grieve. Proper grief should propel us to act. When we consider social impact we do need to consider the philosophical, religious, and psychological underpinnings many of our greatest injustices carry. That’s part of the work I do as a minister. 

Ciara Williams ‘18:

I really enjoyed the book Prison Land: Mapping Carceral Power across Neoliberal America by Brett Story. I also enjoy The Red Nation podcast hosted by Nick Estes and Jen Marley.

Quick Recommendations

Fellows shared so many great recommendations, we had to include more!

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba – Recommended by Jen Benson ‘17, Lauren Hurley ‘20

“My most recent favorite podcasts is a two-parter from Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast about Immunity to Change with Lisa Lahey. It’s not necessarily specific to social impact, but it just a fantastic walkthrough of how to set realistic and impactful goals and then actually accomplish them.” – Recommended by Dawn Lavalle ‘16

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer—beautiful and eye-opening book!” – Recommended by Charlotte Blackman ‘22

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown (as well as the podcast they co-host with their sister, Autumn Brown, called “How to Survive the End of the World”). – Recommended by Sarah Kacevich

“If you’re interested in starting up a business, I recommend reading The Lapsed Anarchists Guide to Building a Better Business by Ari Weinzweig.” – Recommended by Emily Vikre ‘08

“I listen to a podcast called Code Switch that tackles topics around race, ethnicity, and pop culture.” – Recommended by Nia Atkins ‘23

“I highly recommend listening to Maintenance Phase, which deconstructs the research behind science and health fads, and talks a lot about anti-fat bias.” – Recommended by Mariah Peebles ‘11