“I really like what I do,” says Bria Jenkins. She has just finished a 45-hour week as a preschool instructor at Right Steps education, but is still of energy – especially when it comes to talking about her job. Thoughtfully and enthusiastically, she describes her roles and responsibilities as a co-teacher at the Center City childcare center.
For example, this week’s classroom theme is Winter, so all the activities – designed by Bria and her colleague to be developmentally appropriate – are centered on Winter topics. Bria writes the lesson plan every other week, trading off with her co-teacher. “We started around the same time together, so we built the classroom together. Everything in there is something we created together.”
Bria sent us photos from her classroom. “This is our morning circle area where we usually put the season on the wall. We practice our alphabet, go over the calendar, and pick our jobs every week.”
Bria has seventeen nephews and nieces, so she was already familiar with childcare at a practical and instinctual level before enrolling at YouthBuild. However, she says, the program taught her important fundamentals in professionalism and child development. “I’ve learned not to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the children – now I explain the decision to them,” she says. “It’s amazing to think about how much time we spend with the kids, who spend most of their waking hours with us. We are responsible for what they do, what they learn, what they eat. We have a huge impact on them. It’s a big responsibility.” Her favorite part of the job, she says, is hearing from parents about what lessons students have brought home – whether it’s math skills or eating new foods. “They might not show it in the classroom,” she said, “but it’s enough to know they took it home.”
“Another recent theme was ‘New Year.’ The children made stars to represent how colorful their year would be.”
Bria explains that because of the winter, the students aren’t going on their daily morning walk to Rittenhouse Sqaure – but they still go in the afternoon when it’s warmer. She laughs appreciatively as she describes how diligent her students are about holding on to the walking rope during these excursions. “Even when they stumble a little,” she says, “you know they’ve still got their hand on the ring.”
Bria knows a thing or two about diligence herself. Before coming to YouthBuild, she worked at Bayada as a home health aide and thought that she would enroll in YouthBuild’s healthcare vocation track. When she heard about the Childhood Development Associate program, though, she realized that was a better fit for her because of her interest in working with children. Once in the program, she set her sights on success and securing employment. Her favorite field trips, she said, were the ones where the group visited actual childcare centers. “I wanted to see professionals doing what I was trying to become,” she explains. “I think my success comes from wanting it so badly.”
“Each student created and named their own snowman.”
Now that she is employed as an early childhood educator, Bria wants to use her limited free time (she works 2 evenings and 2 weekend mornings at another job) to enroll in college online. Her plan is to continue studying early childhood education, so that she can eventually advance in the field. “I see what our school director does and it interests me,” she explains. “She started as a kindergarten teacher, so why not me?”
Online learning works best for self-directed learners, and Bria is confident that this option is a good fit for her. “I know I’m a dedicated person, so when I say I’m going to do something I know I’m going to do it.”
Bria’s student photo from the Class of 2014 acceptance ceremony
Bria came to YouthBuild after her mother fell ill and she dropped out for over a year due to emotional distress. “Then it took me a while to go back, because you don’t want to go back to school and face the fact that you dropped out,” she explains. She reached a turning point after her birthday, however, when she realized that she was running the risk of becoming too old to earn a diploma. “I started evaluating myself and my situation, and asking myself ‘where can I go from here without completing my education?'” she recalls. A friend told her about YouthBuild and they applied together to the program. (Bria’s mother is now recovered and well.)
At YouthBuild, Bria found supports and challenges that helped her fulfill her potential. “The close-knit family was inspiring to me,” she said, “and learning about leadership at YouthBuild made me step up and want to be more and be better.” She developed a close and positive relationship with Justine Philyaw, the CDA program coordinator, and engaged in friendly competition with one of her close friends and classmates to keep each other motivated. In August, she graduated from YouthBuild. After interning with two other childcare facilities, Bria found a position at Right Steps – thanks to the friend with whom she was “competing.”
“This was our winter/Christmas classroom door. Each child had an ornament hanging from the door.”
As a recent graduate of YouthBuild Philly, Bria still receives postsecondary counseling and support from the school. She is in regular contact with a postsecondary coordinator. “The followups make me feel good,” she says. “Even though I have a supportive family, it’s good to know that someone’s still looking out for me and I know I can contact them.” Just this week she contacted her postsecondary coordinator for advice on applying to online college programs.
“I really love YouthBuild,” she says. “If I could, I would go back and continue my education there.”