Charvella McKaye: A Sense of Commitment at Columbus State

August 24, 2022

Charvella was a single mom in the nineties when she began earning her college degree in early childhood education. Now she’s an associate professor of early childhood development and education (ECDE) at Columbus State Community College and will soon be completing an Ed.D. The climb to her current position was hard, but she’s always had a keen sense of faith and drawn strength from the Bible verse, “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” That got her through, and so did all the support she received from her family, professors and colleagues at the child care center where she began her career. Now she’s still questioning whether she would have succeeded without their help.

But there can be no question about her commitment to young children, though it took her in a direction she didn’t plan. “I wanted to be a pediatric nurse while growing up in Ypsilanti, MI. My mom was a nurse, so I thought that was what I wanted to do,” she recalls. Still, after a year of taking nursing courses, Charvella didn’t think she would be happy in a field that involves so much heartache and pain. Besides, she had found something that did make her happy while volunteering in her church’s child care program. “I fell in love with the children, and in 1991, I began earning an AA in child care training. I knew I had hit on the right career for me.”

The children seemed to agree, especially a small girl named Laura who Charvella will always remember. “I bonded with her while I was student teaching for 10 weeks at her school,” Charvella says. “One day, when those weeks came to an end, I told the class, I won’t be coming back but you’ll have a real good teacher.” And they were words that led little Laura to protest, “Why do you have to leave? You’re a real good teacher.”

And Charvella would become an even better teacher after moving to Columbus, OH, where she continued her education. “I’m a lifelong learner,” she explains. So, she went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree while working for Head Start in Franklin County from 1995 to 2006. Along the way, she rose from preschool teacher to site manager, education specialist and career development specialist, a role in which she made sure everyone from the bus drivers to the teachers received the proper training.

Then an opening for an assistant director became available at the Columbus State Community College Early Learning Center, where Charvella would go on to oversee eight classrooms for seven years and serve as an adjunct professor of ECDE. When the center at Columbus State closed, she returned to Head Start as an area manager. But she had picked up a passion for higher ed as a way to make a global impact on the early childhood profession, and in 2014, she returned to Columbus State as an annually contracted faculty member of ECDE.

“During that time,” Charvella says, “the state of Ohio made a push for quality in early learning and partnered with Columbus State to offer community teachers in Franklin County the chance to earn a Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™ —at no cost. “The ECDE department chair asked me to oversee the program, so I did a mass marketing campaign about it, and we received an overwhelming response,” Charvella recalls.

Many of the community teachers who flocked to the program already had knowledge and skills, Charvella explains. “They were doing things right but didn’t know the reasons for doing them. They understood the concepts in ECE, but they didn’t have the words, like cognitive development and so on, to describe what they were thinking. Seeing them make those connections in my classes was amazing.” And that was the big value of the CDA® for these teachers, Charvella explains. “It made them realize they had more expertise than they thought and gave them the theory to validate their practice.”

The CDA program also gave the students encouragement to continue their education. “One of the last things we talk about in the CDA program,” she says, “is about the transition to earning an associate of applied science (AAS) in child development, and we give them a clear pathway to accomplish that goal. The three courses they take toward their CDA give them credit toward a second credential, the Early Childhood Education and Administration Certificate. That in turn counts toward an AAS. Getting a degree in small steps like this inspires them to keep going, though many of them say they never expected to go to college. They’re just so excited to be taking classes with me at Columbus State,” Charvella says.

She is excited, too, and working with these teachers reminds her of the passion she felt when starting her teaching career. “I remember the light bulbs going off when the children learned something new, and it’s the same for these adults. There’s so much learning going on in the CDA program, and we also have a lot of fun, though my adult learners are tired after a long day of teaching.”

It’s taxing to work in the child care field, Charvella knows from her years of teaching young children. So, she gives a lot of herself to the CDA students and meets with them on evenings and weekends if they need extra help. “My philosophy as a professor is that I will go out of my way to assist you if you’re serious about getting your CDA,” Charvella explains. So, she works outside class time helping them hone their skills, especially writing since there’s a lot of that involved in the CDA. “I help them talk out their thoughts, put them together, write paragraphs, make key points. And it takes a lot of time,” she admits.

Still, it doesn’t make her weary because she gets to see what she’s reaped through that extra work. “The students who stick out in my mind,” she explains, “are the ones who thought they couldn’t do it. When they get to the other side and earn their CDA, they’re just beyond themselves.”

One of the students who did go way beyond what she ever dreamed had a small family child care program when she began her CDA. “She earned it,” Charvella says, “and went on to gain her Early Childhood Education and Administration Certificate, as well as her AAS. I taught her in all three levels and we’re still in touch. Now she’s looking for a building to open her own child care center.”

Success stories like this delight Charvella since she takes a deep personal interest in her students. “I handle each student with care and compassion because I think there’s a very personal element to being a professor, especially for the students I serve. They’re living life for real: working, paying bills and raising children of their own. So, I feel it’s important to be there for them and talk to them about things besides their studies, like what they’re up to over the weekend and what they’re doing to take care of themselves. I also learn life lessons from them that make me think about education and teaching in new ways. I see myself as something more than a professor just teaching content. My role is bigger than that,” she says.

Charvella has also taken on a larger role in the ECE field by serving on the CDA Advisory Committee at the Council. “Some of my recent work on the committee was to provide guidance on safety protocols during COVID and back-to-work safety tips,” she explains. “I felt it was important to use my voice to make sure that folks grasped the rules in ways that made sense in terms of their day-to-day work with young children.”

Charvella is also using her voice to express the concerns of single Black moms who are striving to earn degrees. It’s the subject of her dissertation and one that strikes close to home since she, too, was a single Black mom when she went for her AA. “I want to explore the role of family and friends, employers and professors in helping them persist toward degree completion. And my plan is to survey students in different fields at Columbus State, including some in my own CDA program.”

As a faculty member, Charvella has already had many opportunities to work with single parents on campus. And speaking with them brings her back to those early days when she, too, was struggling to earn her degree and wondering whether she would achieve her goal. Many single moms are now posing that question, so Charvella’s making a contribution by showing the impact of different support systems on their success. The answers she provides will draw on interviews and hard data, but she knows in her heart what got her through.

It’s summed up in another Bible verse she has on a wall in her office: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord, thy God, is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” In short, God is with her students, Charvella’s convinced. And she is always there for them, too. She’s committed to the students she serves at Columbus State.


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