Jada Vargas | Trying Her Best for the Tribe

September 27, 2023

Meet our millionth CDA®. Jada is 18 years old and lives in Whiteriver, Arizona, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, where she has already shown that she’s a leader. “I am the co-president of our White Mountain Apache Tribal Youth Council, where we do our best to come together and serve our tribe,” she says. The Council has fed the homeless, held an anti-bullying essay contest, provided yoga meditation classes and campaigned against drinking and texting while driving, as Jada explains. “We do our best to improve life for ourselves and others.” That’s also a goal Jada has embraced since she was eight or nine years old and decided she wanted to become a teacher.

Jada has always had an ingrained love of children and found a way to act on it while attending Theodore Roosevelt High School on her reservation. “We had elective classes in business, automotive construction and early childhood,” she says. “I decided to take early childhood classes and learned about the CDA in my junior year. When my teacher talked about the credential, I was intrigued and stuck with it throughout high school. During my senior year, I gained my experience hours at ABC Daycare, a center located at my school, and working directly with the children only increased my determination to be a teacher.”

This hands-on experience with children was the best part of earning a CDA, she says. “I learned the importance of working with children one on one and getting down to their level so they could look you in the eyes. I realized that children like it when you call them by their names and talk about the things that especially interest them. For example, one little three-year-old boy loved sheep, so I often chatted about them with him.”

Conversations like this showed Jada that every little member of the flock you face in a class is precious and unique. So, she realized that a teacher shouldn’t be like a sheep and blindly follow the rules in an early childhood textbook. “There are different ways to teach children, and things don’t always go the way they tell you in a book,” she says. “Sometimes the kids can be crabby,” she says. And that’s when it helps her to remember a couple of teachers who had touched her heart in the past. “My seventh-grade math teacher was really bubbly and kind,” Jada recalls. “So was my kindergarten teacher, who knew the importance of hugs.”

Jada also knows how much hugs can help, so she always asks children if that’s what they want. And hugs were especially important to a little girl who had a sudden change in mood. “She was super happy until she had a new sister,” Jada recalls. “The little girl now seemed to feel she wasn’t getting the attention she wanted at home and wanted one of the teachers to hold her all the time. So, we would hold her as much as we could until it was time for her to go home. When we had to let go, she would cry. So, we would tell her it would be okay tomorrow and try to get her mind on something besides being held.”

And working with this child taught Jada the importance of being sensitive to children’s mood swings and trying to figure out what they need. “For example, one little boy,” as she recalls, “suddenly became upset when we were doing an activity in class. He started crying, and the other CDA students and I weren’t sure what to do until one of the teachers realized the activity was too hard for him.” He couldn’t learn to do it, but Jada did learn something from listening to what the teacher said.

Jada is also hoping to learn something from a seasoned teacher who she recently encountered by chance. “I was working at the fire department over the summer,” she recalls, “and I told the firefighters I wanted to be a teacher. One of the firefighters told me his mom had been a teacher for 30 years, and I met her this year when I brought my little cousin to her first-grade class. It turned out that the firefighter’s mom was my cousin’s teacher and she offered to let me come work in her classroom a few days a week. So, I’ll be doing that this year while I’m attending college online,” Jada says.

She also plans to continue teaching at ABC Daycare while advancing her education. Her goal is to do even more as a teacher to improve life for the members of her tribe. “As a Native American, I feel I have a responsibility to address some of the issues my people face, whether it’s poverty, struggles with parenting or failure to see the value of education. I also want to help preserve Apache culture and language as a part of my classroom practice with young children.”

And she’s determined to do it despite some discouraging feedback. “When I tell people what I want to do, they always bring up the fact that you don’t make much money in the early learning field,” Jada says. But fortunately, she has her mom’s total support for her career decision. Even more important, Jada has an internal sense of drive since she cares more about serving others than about the salary she makes. “If I feel in my heart that this is what I want to do, it’s my decision to do it.”

Jada took a big step ahead in her chosen field when she graduated from high school this May with her CDA. Now she urges other high school students to also earn their credentials. It takes some work, she admits, “but it’s so worth it” if you share Jada’s passion for serving our youngest learners. “Earning my CDA taught me new and different ways to work effectively in the classroom, so I continued pushing myself each day. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would tell myself to just breathe, a way to reset my body and mind. It paid off, and last month I finally received my CDA certificate in the mail.”

This cause for celebration also showed Jada that persistence pays off. “If you keep going forward, you will see the benefit of your CDA journey to a career in ECE.” And high schoolers who take Jada’s advice will have the tools to benefit kids and the communities where they live. That’s why Jada is striving to do her best as a rising teacher and a young tribal leader. Our country could use a million more just like her.


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