PENDLETON — It wasn’t until Michelle Vaughn was in her late 20’s, married and with two small children that she began to re-evaluate her career choice and decided to enroll in Tri-County Technical College’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) program.
College was never on her radar – as a C-D student in high school, she was told she wasn’t college material.
“I didn’t think I was academically capable. That comment stuck with me because I believed it back then. I spent years in a production job that was financially rewarding but not a good career fit for me. Working third shift was grueling because I trying to balance it with family life,” said the Anderson resident.
She began to weigh her options.
“I wanted and needed more but I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do. I was drawn to children and wanted to make a career change where I could impact children’s lives and our community,” she said.
She quit her job without having another one.
“When my son began kindergarten at Covenant Christian Academy in Anderson, I asked if they needed any subs,” she said. “They hired me for the teacher assistant job. I had no idea I would love it. My co-director was very supportive of my going to college and introduced me to the T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education and Compensation Helps) scholarship program while we were at a conference one day.”
What they found out made going to Tri-County Technical College a reality for Vaughn. She discovered that the SC T.E.A.C.H. program would fund 80 percent of her education, with her and her sponsoring childcare program (Covenant) each paying 10 percent of the cost.
“Ten percent was manageable but I found out that I also qualified for financial aid and lottery tuition assistance, which would cover my remaining 10 percent. Attending college for free is a no-brainer. I know I couldn’t have made it happen without T.E.A.C.H. and financial aid. I will graduate July 31 debt free — owing nothing!” she said.
The SC T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Program makes higher education affordable, in terms of cost and time, by providing college scholarships to help with tuition, books, and travel while early childhood education professionals earn credentials and degrees.
The purpose of the scholarship program, funded by SC Department of Social Services, is to increase the educational levels of the childcare professionals in the State.
Terms of the scholarship include staying in the field for one year after completing a contract or graduation. Recipients receive a $300 incentive for completing nine credit hours at the end of contract year.
Vaughn says having the burden of worrying about finances made her a better student.
“I had time to focus on my family, my part-time job at Covenant and my studies,” she said. “I knew I could be a good student because I was determined to do well. I realized the importance of a college degree – and more important that I was college material, that I could be successful in college.”
It wasn’t easy, she said.
“In the beginning, I was scared. I had been out of high school so long but I started out with one class to ease in and worked my way up to three. It was never easy but it was manageable with friends and family to back me up,” she said.
She credits ECD Program Coordinator Meredith McClure with serving as a mentor.
“She knows how hard it is to be a mom and go back to school. She was very encouraging,” said Vaughn.
Vaughn’s hard work paid off – she was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society last year and will graduate with honors with an associate degree in Early Childhood Development on July 31.
“I believe that most ECD students thrive in our classes because what they are learning is both meaningful and challenging, while preparing them for a career field that is their passion,” said McClure. “Michelle is a natural teacher! Her students love her and she has a great work ethic.
“Michelle is the kind of teacher any parent would want for his or her child,” McClure added. “She displays kindness, compassion and a dedication to employing developmentally appropriate teaching practices with children. Michelle is a success story because she works hard and applies herself. She has found her passion and her calling as a professional early childhood educator. I am very proud of her dedication.”
Vaughn’s part-time work while a student has led to full-time employment at Covenant. When there was an opening several months ago, the school offered her a full-time teacher position.
“This is a lifelong career for me,” said Vaughn. “T.E.A.C.H. is awesome. They will continue to support me as I take two prerequisite classes this fall in preparation to enter Southern Wesleyan University’s Early Childhood Education program.”