This is one of a series of blogs featuring first-person accounts from early educators across Massachusetts.
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My name is Bethany Whitemyer, and I’m the center director of the Bright Horizons in Pembroke. My center is located about 25 miles south of Boston and has programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and Kindergarten Prep. I’m proud to say that our center just received our third term of NAEYC accreditation this spring.
I started my career in early education and care as an Infant Teacher in 1992. I had recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, but I really loved working with children. I’ve also been a Lead Teacher, an Assistant Director, and a Field Director at Bright Horizons; as well as a Family Specialist at the Child Care Resource Center in Cambridge. I’ve used almost every employee benefit that Bright Horizons has to offer, including tuition reimbursement which I used when I went back to school for my master’s degree in Education at Lesley; the employee discount, which I used when my own children were younger; and the 401K, which I have been adding to for 20 years.
Being a center director allows me to do a little bit of everything every day. The most important aspects of my role involve working with people. Creating meaningful partnerships with the families at my center is one of my favorite parts of my job. I make time every day to greet families and children as they arrive or leave the center, and I try to be a resource for parents as their children go through different stages of development. Whether the family has a baby with his first ear infection, a toddler who stopped sleeping through the night, a suddenly defiant preschooler, or a child about to enter public school, I can either lend a sympathetic ear, share my own experience as a parent, or provide some additional guidance and tools. I really want parents to feel supported in their job. Reviewing annual parent satisfaction survey results allows me and my team to adjust our practices to ensure that the way our program operates is working for our families.
Supervising and mentoring the teaching staff is another priority. A lot more than annual reviews goes into developing a great staff. Attracting, training, and retaining a qualified group of teachers is one of the keys to a successful center. Teachers have a direct effect on the positive, day-to-day experience for the children and families, so it’s critical to be sure that teachers have the skills and attitude to teach young children. Many of the teachers at my center have already completed college level coursework in early childhood education. They have degrees in early childhood education or other fields, and they have experience working with children.
Learning how to mentor new teachers as well as support existing teachers is a balancing act that takes daily effort. Spending time with the teachers in their classrooms is a way that I try to stay connected with the type of support that each teacher may need. Supporting teachers’ efforts to manage their own work/life balance also takes a lot of effort. Providing a comprehensive benefits package that includes education, health and wellness, and financial benefits is a piece of the puzzle, but at my center we find that teachers also need to feel valued as individuals. We try to give everyone an opportunity to be creative in their work, and we respect every teacher’s contributions.
Communicating and collaborating with the community is also one of my responsibilities. I really love this part of my job, too! Being part of the community adds value to our center in a few ways. Since I like to stay on top of what’s happening in town, I became a member of the Chamber of Commerce. This has connected me with lots of local businesses and some great annual town events, like the Pembroke Arts Festival and the Pembroke Tree Lighting.
To stay connected with the early education and care community, I’m also a member of the South Shore Community Action Council. This group is comprised of child care center directors, family child care providers, Head Start professionals, children’s librarians, and representatives from other agencies that serve families with young children. We provide professional support to one another, and we plan programs and activities for families in a variety of ways.
Another reason to stay connected within the community is to provide opportunities for our staff and families to give back in a socially responsible way. We participate in several service projects each year including a birthday party supply drive for Birthday Wishes, a pajama drive for Cradles to Crayons, and multiple projects for the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children. For the past few years we have also been proud supporters of the organic vegetable garden at the North River Community Church. Growing food helps the food pantries and shelters that will receive the produce, and it enriches our students’ and teachers’ lives because they can learn and give at the same time.
Building connections with parents, teachers, and the community are all vital parts of my role. Of course there are also times when I need to fix the copier, unclog a toilet (or two), or jump in to provide first aid!
About 90 percent of brain development happens by age 6. So it’s clear that a child’s early experiences have the potential to build a strong foundation for success. Unfortunately many parents don’t have access to great child care programs (like mine!) and to caregivers who will nurture and educate their child. Whether the challenges stem from finances, geography, or logistics, many parents have to settle for less than the best.