Kimberly Gregoire

AUBURN, MA – Kimberly Gregoire sits on a brightly colored rubber mat on the floor of the sunny infant and toddler room at the Goddard School, singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” to a baby on the verge of standing on his own. She gently helps him to his feet and gently guides him to “row row row” back and forth to the song.

A few days earlier, Gregoire was addressing legislators and other guests at a legislative breakfast hosted by the Worcester Association for the Education, treating them to an example of policy in action along with their pastries and coffee. Gregoire is a recipient of the Early Childhood Educators Scholarship, which enabled her to earn her associate degree in May from Quinsigamond Community College, and now it’s supporting her to study for her bachelor’s degree at Worcester State University.

I caught up with Gregoire at the early education and care center where she has worked for two years. Prior to coming to Goddard, Gregoire was a Head Start preschool teacher.

“I need help to pay for my education. I want to be educated. I want to work with young children. I need this background to help my career,” Gregoire says. “It’s helped me understand child development. There is a lot more to it than the caretaking of young children.”

The simple game of “Row Row Row Your Boat” is one example. “You’re helping the self-regulation. Helping them develop physically. Just speaking to them. What the words are. How things feel. It’s not just playing with babies. We’re educating babies,” Gregoire says. “It helps the child’s balance. Once they get it, they can do it themselves. They love to hear the language. Some of them sing it back to us. He’s also feeling secure with me. I’m not going to let you fall. You are secure with me.”

Research finds that young children learn best in classrooms led by early educators with college degrees and specialized training. Since its creation in 2005 to help working early educators study for AA and BA degrees, more than 5,000 Early Childhood Educators Scholarships have been awarded, and with them, stories like Gregoire’s emerge. Our Back to School audio slide show features Doreen Anzalone, another early educator who used the scholarship to earn her BA degree and brought back what she learned to the children in her pre-kindergarten classroom. Anzalone is now studying for her master’s degree.

Gregoire is one of seven early educators at her center currently enrolled in higher education. It’s a pursuit that requires a commitment not only from the early educators themselves, but also from the program, which arranges coverage when staff members leave early for class. “I firmly believe in the power of higher education and what it can do for you as a human being and as an educator,” says Rebecca Putnam, director of Goddard’s Auburn center. “We make accommodations throughout the entire building for people to attend classes and get their practicum done.”

When staff members earn degrees, Putnam adds, they get a raise, which is not always the case in a field that suffers from low compensation.

As many non-traditional students can attest, going to school while working and raising a family is not easy. Gregoire, 38, has three children between the ages of 11 and 19.

“I’m a full-time mom. I work fulltime. I go to college,” she says. “It’s very difficult. I had to find ways to balance it. My children have been great. They pick up some of the chores. My husband is very supportive. Even if it means we’re living out of a laundry basket, which we’ve done many times because the laundry’s done but the clothes aren’t folded. It’s the reality when you work and have a family, and I want an education.

“I was the neighborhood babysitter. I had two nanny jobs. I knew I wanted to work with children,” Gregoire adds. “It just comes naturally. Even though I have the patience for it, the passion for it, you need the education piece. I learned things I did not know. It’s good for the children. It’s good for me, too.”