Kelly Maupin and Julia Lynch: Advancing the CDA in Tennessee

May 25, 2022

“A student recently called me up in tears of joy,” recalls Julia Lynch, a specialist for the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance (TECTA). “She was excited because she was going to attend college courses while earning her Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™. She had just received a letter from Dyersburg State Community College saying that it would allow her to enroll there during her senior year in high school. And she was just so excited. After finishing her CDA®, she’ll have 12 college credits toward a degree in early childhood education, and she’s planning to go on for an associate degree, a dream she never thought she could reach.”

Many more high school students will also have a chance to pursue their dreams for a career in ECE, thanks to the support TECTA provides. With generous federal funding, TECTA makes an impact on students statewide by providing them with an advisor, completing their CDA Assessment Observation Instrument, reviewing their Competency Statements and Resource File, assisting with completion of the CDA application and paying the application fee. TECTA even pays for their renewal fee so they can keep their credential current.

The program has been operating in the region of West Tennessee for 30 years, says Kelly Maupin, TECTA site coordinator at Dyersburg State. Working out of her office at the college, she overseas budgeting and grants for the CDA program in 19 counties. “We provide CDA training for both educators who are already employed,” she explains, “and for high schoolers who are taking their first steps into the ECE profession.”

Maupin knows the value of the CDA because she earned the credential while she was a college student preparing for a career in ECE. And she’s kept it up to date throughout a long career that has taken her from the early childhood classroom into college-level administration. She started out as co-owner of a family child care home that expanded to become center-based, and she worked there for 10 years before joining Dyersburg State as an instructor. She’s been in her current role since 2016 and is now working on her doctorate, but she still values that first credential.

“The CDA is a steppingstone that got me started and inspired me to go on with my education,” she says. “And I urge people to earn a CDA whether they’re in high school or already working in the ECE profession. I’m very passionate about that though many people will say they have a degree, so they don’t need to earn a CDA or keep their credential up to date. Well, I disagree, and I put a lot of weight on the CDA when I’m looking to fill positions at my site. People often look the same on paper, so if you have a CDA, you score higher with me when I do interviews, whether for an instructor or administrative position.”

And Maupin makes this point when she goes into high schools to talk about careers. “I tell the students they may start out in an infant classroom, but there are all these other opportunities that you can grab if you choose to continue your education. So, we’re going to begin with the CDA and give you a lot of support. Our instructors make themselves available to work one-on-one with students who don’t understand a particular topic or connect the students with tutors who can give them any needed extra training.”

The students can also count on Lynch as one of the folks who’s committed to guiding them ahead. “I begin with a 30-hour orientation to get them on the academic pathway,” she explains. “It consists of 10 three-hour modules that have been approved by the state of Tennessee and covers key topics like leadership, professionalism, safety and health. When they complete those 30 hours, they earn an Orientation Completion Certificate, the first stage in their ECE careers. Then I mentor and coach them through the four CDA-related courses, development of their portfolios, working on the CDA exam questions and observing them in the classroom.”

Lynch works to make them comfortable with the CDA process and the challenges of a career in ECE. She speaks from first-hand experience since she’s a CDA holder who began her career in a Head Start classroom while she was a student. She’s also a millennial who can identify with the students and knows how young folks like to connect. “They can reach me on social media or Zoom,” she says. “And I’m also willing to meet them at a coffee shop or go to their place of work. So, I’m ready to meet them where they are.”

Her commitment to these rising teachers comes from her long sense of passion for the ECE profession. “My mother was an educator who loved children,” Lynch says. “Watching her light up around them made me wonder where that spark was coming from. So even when I was a young child, I wanted to work with babies, and I’m still drawn to them like a magnet. But I also love teaching whatever age group I’m working with,” Lynch explains. And she enjoys her current job since it allows her to “teach the why behind what teachers do in the classroom.” Plus, it still gives her the chance to interact with children. “Candidates often ask me to come to the classroom to prepare for observations,” she says. “While I’m there, I also read books and do other activities with the children.”

So, Lynch has fun while she pursues an important goal: getting high school students to be workforce ready and helping them build a gateway to higher education. “Many of them, like that excited student who called me up, never dreamed of attending college. But earning a CDA gives students the boost they need to get started,” Lynch explains. “They realize they’ve completed one college course and earned three college credits that no one can take away. Then they want to do it again next semester, the semester after that and the semester after that. Finally, they’ve got those four courses finished, and now they’re going to start with me on the portfolio. By then, they’ve often gained the confidence they need to keep going.”

Lynch and Maupin are also determined to keep going and grow the CDA program in West Tennessee high schools. “This month, we’re holding a very large event,” Maupin says, “for high school administrators, career and technical education instructors, and guidance counselors. Over 30 school districts are involved, and they’ll each be sending representatives to join us. They’re going to share their experience with the CDA program and discuss the progress they’ve made. They’ll also be helping others understand how easy it is to start their own CDA program and incorporate it in the curriculums they already have.”

Events like this matter since they help make high school students more aware of the early childhood field, Maupin explains. “In general, we don’t market ECE in our high schools. We encourage students to go into engineering, IT and other different areas, so early education is not on the forefront of their minds. They’re not aware of all the opportunities out there in the ECE field.” So, now she and Lynch want to put a spotlight on it by promoting the CDA. And they’ve been glad to see that recent years have brought growing interest in the credential and more awareness of the competence it ensures.

“This surge of interest reflects widespread public interest in raising quality in early care and education,” Lynch suggests. “And the CDA provides the whole package that educators need. The coursework gives you everything you need to get a good grasp of guidance, health, safety and much more. So, government funders have begun to realize that CDA training is a guarantee of quality in early learning.”

Now the state of Tennessee has been providing more money to support it, especially in recent years, Maupin explains. “Since that start of the pandemic, the long-term child care shortage has become severe. So, if you have a CDA at graduation time, you can apply for a job in any child care program and they’re going to swoop in to snatch you up. That’s because employers know that people with CDAs come with the training they need to do the job.”

And many students in the region Lynch and Maupin serve have realized the value of earning a CDA. This year, Weakley County boasted the largest group of high schoolers earning an Orientation Completion Certificate, the first step toward a CDA. Forty-three students received their certificates at a meeting of the Weakley County Chapter of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America last month. The students got all the recognition as they stood on stage. But the event was also a celebration of the work Maupin and Lynch have done to advance the CDA in West Tennessee. “We appreciate the opportunity to offer this amazing program to the students. It can really be life-changing for so many of them,” Maupin said when the event concluded. “Seeing the program grow has been very rewarding for us.”


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