When Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark announced her Child Care Is Infrastructure Act, which would authorize $10 billion over five years to invest in the early care and education sector (ECE), she did so with ECE experts by her side who told reporters how their businesses were being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of Clark’s experts was Jessica DeJesus Acevedo, a recent graduate of our Post-Master’s Certificate in Early Education Research, Policy, and Practice program who was accepted this summer into our PhD program.
“Day care and early child care are the foundation for children’s academic and social success in life,” Acevedo said during the press conference, which was streamed live over Facebook. Acevedo added that owners of private ECE programs needed more grants and funding to keep their businesses going through the pandemic.
Acevedo certainly knows what she’s talking about. From her first child development classes as a high school student to owning a family day care with her sister to her current studies in our Early Education Research, Policy and Practice PhD program, Jessica DeJesus Acevedo has dedicated her career to the field of ECE.
Over the past 10-plus years, Acevedo cared for children in her aunt’s family day care and worked as a classroom aide, a substitute teacher, and an after-school teacher. When her aunt retired, Acevedo and her sister, Jennie DeJesus Acevedo, bought the child care program, becoming the owners of Little Star of Ours Daycare in Cambridge.
As she accumulated this work experience, Acevedo simultaneously earned her undergraduate degree in early education, a master’s degree, and our Post-Master’s Certificate. She also prepared for, and passed, the Massachusetts teacher licensing exam.
Acevedo acknowledges balancing work and the various stages of her education has been stressful. But she adds, “It was getting me ready for this.”
“This” being a pandemic that has waylaid an industry that was already struggling with low wages and wafer-thin profit margins, as providers now grapple with how to safely resume serving families and still pay the bills—potentially leaving untold numbers of working parents without ECE options.
In addition to short-term grants, Acevedo says that longer-term systemic changes are also needed to bolster the field. These include greater funding for teacher preparation for individuals entering the field, more opportunities for educational advancement and free training for current educators, and collaboration between the Commonwealth’s departments of elementary and secondary education and early education and care.
Acevedo credits the support of her sister for enabling her pursuit of both higher education and ECE advocacy. “Jennie has been the anchor to our daycare when I’m not here, and she has always seen the value of, “Okay, I’ll hold down the fort while you go and fight the war,” Acevedo says.
Both sisters believe Acevedo’s offsite activities aren’t just good for their profession as a whole, but they help their individual business, too.
“I’ve really been highly focused on education and advocacy and making sure that when people hear our business name they think of us pushing the envelope,” Acevedo says. “But they also know that our daycare is our number one priority and that when the kids are here they are our highest priority.”
Acevedo says that she was able to develop her leadership skills as both an educator and an entrepreneur in the PMC program. “I was getting that affirmation from my teachers that I can be both an educator and an entrepreneur—that it is essential,” she said. “There’s a need for us to step up as entrepreneurs right now, not just in education, but also business and economic issues. Child care plays an essential role in the economic life of our communities—but early educators don’t usually receive the instruction we need to be successful in that area.”
The program also gave her confidence to be an advocate for ECE. “What is important for me right now as a young adult, young professional, and young entrepreneur, is using my story to reach more people and to support more people, because my struggles in this profession aren’t just mine, they’re everybody’s,” says Acevedo. “So if we all support each other a little bit more every day, we can definitely make strides.”
Now, as a student in our PhD program, Acevedo is interested in studying the effect of high-quality early education and care on the children of working-class families and single-parent homes who may be struggling to make ends meet but do not live below the poverty line.
“We have so much research and information on the benefits of child care for children living in poverty, but what about everyone else?,” Acevdeo asks. “What does the rest of the population look like? What is the impact of high quality child care on these children and families? I think I know the answer, but we need more research in this area.”
There can be little doubt that given her track record, Acevedo will find answers to her questions. Meanwhile, given her own pursuit of higher education, it’s not surprising to hear Acevedo advise others who may be thinking about the PMC program to just take the plunge and apply. “Every time you put yourself out there and apply, you’re aligning yourself with your goals, even if you don’t make it the first time,” says Acevedo. “Don’t let words or applications or fees hold you back from your greatness and what you can do in the future because they’re just all small steps in the right direction.”