“When I set my mind to something, I gotta do it. If I stop and I keep thinking about it, then it doesn’t happen.”
That’s how Jennifer Mentzer describes the process to pursue her high school diploma. As a mom to five kids, Jennifer was primarily focused on getting by and caring for her children while her husband worked full-time. She thought about returning to school but hadn’t taken the first step to move forward.
That is, until she received encouragement and support from Penny, a Family Coach with Community Progress Council. Once Penny shared information about an online GED/HS diploma program, Jennifer took it from there.
“It was Christmas break of 2021, and I came back and I was done [with my GED],” Jennifer said. “I did all that on Christmas break with five kids. There ain’t no stopping me.”
Earning her high school diploma opened doors for Jennifer. Doubling down on her commitment, she started right away with online classes toward her Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. As Jennifer and Penny worked together on building Jennifer’s resume, Penny shared about the Early Childhood Education teacher training program through Community Progress Council.
The training program, which began in 2022 with generous support from the PNC Foundation, is for people who are interested in working with children but lack the experience or education necessary for an assistant teacher role. Over the course of several months, the program provides hands-on learning experience through paid time in the classroom under the guidance of experienced teachers, as well as paid time to complete their studies toward their CDA credential.
“It’s hard to go to school and have a full-time job,” said Luisa Olivo-Wolf, Community Progress Council’s Assistant Chief Program Officer. “This program is really about removing barriers, while also creating a career path for new teachers and helping to alleviate some of the staffing challenges that early childhood education programs are seeing across the board.”
“We’re fortunate to have funding from the PNC Foundation in support of PNC Grow Up Great that makes this program possible,” Luisa added. “Their partnership has been key in creating a structure that helps participants advance their careers and helps our teams support more children and their families with the comprehensive services necessary to become kindergarten ready.”
Jennifer has always loved working with children, but she says being in the classroom is completely different than caring for her own.
The training program has provided her with hands-on experience in a classroom of 16 energetic 3- to 5-year-olds, plus a mentor in her classroom’s head teacher, Ms. Dawn.
“It’s about getting your foot in the door, seeing if that’s what you want to do,” Jennifer said. “I’ve been learning the schedules, how to do the lesson plans. It’s putting the pieces together.”
Throughout the learning process, she’s been able to connect her online courses to what happens in the classroom throughout the day. It’s been a process for Jennifer, who laughs and bemoans the essay-heavy assignments as of late. But it’s also a promising change for her family and her career.
“I had my CNA license, but with the hours of nursing homes or even hospitals nowadays, they just don’t work with getting my kids to school or after school,” Jennifer said. Classroom hours that match her children’s schedules make for a better work-life balance.
In time, she hopes to continue her education and pursue a bachelor’s degree that will enable her to teach in an elementary school.
“It’s worth it, if this is what you want to do,” Jennifer said. “Community Progress Council has helped me and my family tremendously.”