Nina James discovered her passion while working as a property manager on East Fayette Street in Syracuse. “I used to see a lot of kids there who should have been in school. I would tell them they needed their education to be successful. It got me thinking that instead of working for the housing complex and overseeing the adults I should be working with children.”
Those conversations led James to where she is today. The 55-year-old mother of four is director of the Salvation Army’s Cab Horse Commons Child Care Center on South Salina Street. The facility can accommodate up to 95 children between the ages of six months and five-years-old. James is responsible for their daily care and her 13 employees who administer it.
Caregivers at the center are required to have nine college credits in Early Childhood Education to work there. That’s where Onondaga Community College comes in. As part of the Early Childhood Career Advancement Ladder II (ECCAL II) the College began offering nine credits of introductory courses at the Salvation Army’s Cab Horse Commons and the Head Start Summer School site. The courses are offered at one-third the regular tuition for practitioners already working with young children in child care or Head Start.
James was part of the first class of employees who enrolled when the program began in 2014. “When we started I wasn’t sure how I was going to juggle work, home and college. What we all found out was that the school work was much easier when we worked in groups and had discussions together. We were able to solve problems and encourage each other.”
The courses James and her co-workers take can be used as the education component for the Child Development Credential (CDA) which is the first of the professional credentials needed. Other credentials students can earn include the Early Child Care Certificate and the Early Childhood A.A.S. degree. The ECCAL II program includes a mentor who works closely with students and a textbook loan component.
Dr. Patricia Martin is Chair of OCC’s Human Services and Teacher Education program and an Early Childhood Education Professor. She’s seen the program play a vital role in the professional growth of the child care center’s employees. “These teachers provide quality early childhood education every day that directly affects young children, their families and their futures. We are thrilled to be able to bring them the courses they need to advance their careers.”
James is now just 23 credits away from getting her bachelor’s degree. In the summer she’ll begin taking classes at SUNY Empire State College. She’s looking forward to her future but occasionally thinks about those children she tried to give advice to many years ago when she was working as a property manager. “Some of them listened and some didn’t,” she recalls. “Sometimes I would run into one of the children who listened and hear, ‘Thank you Miss Nina for telling me I should have been in school.’ It was very rewarding.”