Mary Claire Babula  June 5, 1950 – December 3, 2015

Mary Claire Babula June 5, 1950 – December 3, 2015

Mary Babula

Mary Claire Babula

The world of early learning in Wisconsin has lost a rare and fiery gem; Mary Babula, recently retired WECA Director of Membership, a dear colleague, friend and mentor has died.

Within two hours of her passing a local child care program came to our offices with a line of jacketed and mittened small souls to sing to us as they do a few times a year.  “ABCD, EFG…” it was only fitting that their little voices escorted Mary on her next journey.  Without knowing, their presence was cathartic.  Their bright smiles, their wide eyes taking everything in, their fidgeting little hands; they are why Mary did all that only Mary could do so very well in her own Mary Babula ways.  For Mary knew, deeply and completely, the work of nurturing, caring for and educating our youngest children to be the most important and worthiest of work.

Mary’s career in early childhood education began as a teacher/director at Christian Day Care Center in Madison in the 1970’s. Later she became the director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association which grew under her leadership. Mary was an advocate for children’s and teacher’s rights. She challenged law makers and modeled patience and understanding for all.

Mary was someone with many passionate commitments. She was active in music through Womonsong, international travel through Friendship Force, and issues of equity for women and families through the Wisconsin Womens Network. She loved traveling, camping and canoeing and frequently visited the Boundary Waters and many other wilderness areas.

She is survived by her domestic partner, Mary Mastaglio, family members, many many friends and her WECA family to which she gave so much. WECA, together with the Babula and Mastaglio families are discussing how best to honor Mary’s significant legacy and impact with the financial gifts that friends and colleagues have made in her name. In early 2016 we look forward to sharing more details with you.

Why Mentoring Matters

Why Mentoring Matters

We all probably have a story of a person who we might call a mentor. That is, a person who took the time to give helpful advice, served as the role model of the teacher we aspired to be, or encouraged us through a tough time until we came out stronger and more knowledgeable in the end. This is professional development with ‘staying power.’

Peggy Haack

“Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.” -Peggy Haack, WECA Outreach Coordinator, and mentor.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in creating more formalized mentoring relationships.  The key word here is “relationships.” The real learning happens when there is a trusting relationship between a learning teacher and a mentor.  Programs experience success and at the same time discover a new pathway of leadership for teachers when they match those willing to serve as mentors to those who are less experienced or skillful.  Other programs choose to work with mentors from outside of their programs.  For both models, an investment of time is required to build a relationship between a learning teacher and a skilled mentor.

I believe that there are three powerful parallels between our work with children and the success of mentoring as a way to grow teacher competence.

First is the concept of relationships. We know this to be the key to unlocking curiosity and an eagerness to learn in children.  It’s the same for adults.  If we trust that someone really cares about who we are, what we think and how we learn, then we aim to please!

Second is the concept of developmentally appropriate practice.  We know from our work with children that if we take the time to figure out just where the child is on the learning curve, we can craft a plan suited to him or her.  We figure out the next step and build upon small successes so the challenges don’t seem overwhelming. Mentoring embodies this “one-to-one” approach.

The third parallel is the concept of reflective practice.  Our work with children teaches us to question why and to seek answers. For example, “Why is this transition so difficult for the children and how can I change it?”  When it comes to professional development, often the learning teacher knows what she wants to change in her practice, but doesn’t know how or maybe even why.  Having a mentor to help sort through the questions and attune to the teacher’s goals may be exactly what it takes.  For the person who is also engaged in formal education, mentoring can be the bridge between taking what one learns in a classroom and through textbooks and actually putting that learning into practice – a process that requires a great deal of reflection.

Mentoring is about supporting teachers as learners through their everyday practice. Mentoring can intentionally implemented as part of a professional development plan.  Mentoring thrives when we create the kinds of work environments that allow teachers to grow on the job into lifelong learners.

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

Early childhood education ranks as top priority for voters

ffyf top priority graphic

For three years running, the First Five Years Fund’s annual bipartisan poll shows that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party. ““For the first time in our three years of polling, American voters’ top priority is making sure children get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving the overall quality of public education,” says Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund. In the poll, 89% of voters agree that we need to ensure more children don’t miss out on early learning and socialization experiences during the first five years of life when the brain develops more dramatically. 63% strongly agree on this point.

ffyf invest now graphic

What does this mean for Wisconsin?
For WECA – a statewide organization focused on the child care workforce and programs that raise childcare quality – the findings inspire us to keep moving forward. In myriad ways WECA calls for greater investment in quality early care. Our outreach, education and advocacy on this issue is multi-faceted. In 2015 WECA published Starting Early, Starting Now, a research report that outlines potential ways forward in funding a child care delivery system in Wisconsin that is accessible and affordable to all families. Our interactive “Jack’s story” shows the return on investment Wisconsin taxpayers will see when young children get quality early care right from the start. And as the source detail notes – the financial projections are conservative. Throughout the year WECA staff meet with Wisconsin legislators and serve as policy advisors on key state and national committees focused on young children and the early childhood workforce that is so central to the outcomes we seek. WECA works with community partners and recently, sponsored a viewing and discussion of the Raising of America documentary that is traveling throughout the U.S.

As we move closer to the general election cycle we’ll be increasing our outreach and education on behalf of early childhood education investments in Wisconsin.

Your support is needed – as an advocate in our Forward for Kids initiative – and as a donor.  Contributions enable WECA to strengthen its statewide advocacy work that unites families, policymakers, child care providers and others in building a high quality and affordable system of early care and education for all children.

Everyday Leadership

WECA is Wisconsin’s largest association of childcare providers. In a recent member newsletter, Executive Director Ruth Schmidt shared her reflections on leadership.  To honor the everyday leadership Wisconsin childcare providers exemplify each day, we share Ruth’s valued thoughts.

Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director

Ruth Schmidt, Executive Director

My father, Stephen, was an everyday leader.  He passed away three years ago.  I knew him as a dad, a loving husband to my mother, and a college professor.  And for me, that was more than enough.  He loved me and my siblings like a river that had overrun its banks, a mountain whose peak was always in the clouds going on forever.  He challenged me to be strong enough to know that trust and vulnerability are the truest windows through which to view the goodness of my fellow human beings.  He expected me to follow my passions because that is the sort of life we are called to give to this world.

Over 700 people came to the visitation after Dad died.  I knew he was loved and respected but until that evening in September 2012 I had no idea the impact of his life.  People who he taught in the 1950s as 1st graders came to speak of the lasting imprint he made in their lives, of how his influence shaped who they became.  People who sang in the church choir he directed in the 1960s came to speak of the ongoing joy of music he left in their lives.  Students who studied under him and were advised by him at one of the three colleges he taught at over four decades came and spoke of the better people they had become as a result of being challenged by him to be their best, to always consider the “other,” to question the accepted and live with integrity.  Professors came and spoke of his relentless dedication to his field of study, but more importantly, to the art of teaching.  There were mentions of his prolific writing that offered new insights, of his lecturing and public speaking that left you sure he was addressing just you in a room full of people, of the lifelong relationships he fostered and nurtured through letters, and phone calls and emails.  People came from across the country to pay their final respects because they recognized that their lives were better from having known him.

An everyday leader.  A teacher.  A call to live fully, live passionately.  A demand to question, to consider the “other,” to be open to what is new and hold in reverence much of what is old.  An everyday leader.  A teacher.

I have watched what you do.  I have seen you with children; each child sure you are there for her alone.   I have heard you sing your songs, and move your feet and clap your hands understanding why your voice and your movements and patterns are shaping the next generation. I have seen you make remarkable toys for your classrooms out of items many would have thrown away.  I have looked at you deep in concentration gleaning everything you can from a conference workshop and challenging each other to learn more, create more, teach more, play more, and give more.   I have listened to directors share the struggle you face supporting your staff, meeting your payroll, buying your program’s food and materials, filling out your forms, writing your handbooks, filing your taxes and so much more with few resources.  I have listened to teachers tell of working two jobs because you don’t earn enough in the field of child care but don’t want to leave.  I have listened to family child care providers who have taken out second mortgages in order to keep your program running.  I used to ask myself, “why?”  I don’t anymore.  You are everyday leaders, in the most exceptional ways.  You lead from your hands to your hearts. You lead in a quest for constant improvement.  You lead by modeling, reading, rocking, holding and guiding.

From my father and each of you I have learned lessons to help me become a better leader in the work I do at WECA.  Never have I been more aware of the fact that leadership is a lifelong quest than when I reflect on what I have learned in my 13 years at WECA.  And never have I been more certain of the fact that we lead best when we honor the leaders around us.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart and the tips of my fingers, for your beautiful everyday leadership.

Worthy Work? What is the premium for educational attainment in the early childhood field?

A new National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine publication suggests that it’s time for practices and policies regarding the early care and education of young children to catch up with the science of early brain development.  The Academy’s call is urgent and the publication seeks to transform the workforce. It includes a recommendation that all lead teachers working with children from birth through age eight have a Bachelor’s degree.  (Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8:  A Unifying Foundation)

If you’re thinking that would be quite a stretch, you’re right… but perhaps not by as much as you think.  According to a 2013 brief entitled “Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education,” more than half (53%) of child care center classroom teachers and caregivers had some level of college experience, with one-quarter (26%) having a four-year degree, a significant increase over the previous survey (2009-2010). I make less than...

The problem.  There is a major disconnect between educational attainment and compensation of the early childhood education workforce.  Unlike most professions, how much one earns in the early childhood field depends very little on one’s education.  Instead, variations in earnings depend on the age of the children and the auspice under which one works: the older the child, the more you make; and if you’re part of the public education system you make more than in Head Start, where you make more than in a child care center. It is an irrational wage structure that leaves many dedicated professionals and millions of children short-changed.

The original National Child Care Staffing Study (1989) was the first to document the link between education of caregivers and quality of care.  This study also found that wages were a key predictor of quality because low wages fueled high turnover. Yet current public policy aimed at improving quality still fails to link advances in education with improved compensation for the early childhood workforce.

Despite an explosion of knowledge about the importance of the early years, the average wage of a childcare center-based teacher ($10.60 per hour nationally), is less than those who care for our animals or as noted by Wisconsin childcare teacher, Andrea Tallacksen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, less than those handling our bags at the airport – a job with no educational requirements!  (According to Delta Airlines, baggage handlers earn on average $13/hour. reports the average pay of baggage handlers at $12.08/hour).

What now? Transforming this workforce begins by re-opening the conversation of compensation parity with educators of older children, revisiting public policies that fiscally undervalue the work of early childhood education, and recruiting new partners in the struggle for economic justice.

“I can teach”

“I can teach”

I can teachThe death of Tony Robinson, and of so many others in Ferguson, Tulsa, North Charleston, Staten Island, Cleveland, and Baltimore raises highly disturbing questions of racial disparities in the United States.  For those of us who work with young children we may ask what can I do to help?

Childcare teacher Emily Sonnemann wrote the following reflection shortly after the police shooting of Tony Robinson on March 6, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin.


What do you do when an unarmed black teenager is shot and killed in your neighborhood?
With sounds of protest drifting in the wind and down the street to my house, I am left wondering how a white childcare provider and mother of young children moves forward.
What can I do to help?


I can mourn.
I can stand in solidarity.


I can teach
I can teach love, peace, justice and kindness.
I can teach being a good neighbor and community member.
I can teach saying hello to the people we meet as we continue to go out into the community.
I can teach real and meaningful conversation with the people we meet on the bus and down the street.
I can teach honesty.
I can teach answers, even to the hard questions.
I can teach questioning even when there aren’t any answers.
I can teach living simply.
I can teach picking up trash, to care for the earth, the neighborhood, and the environment
because it’s all connected to how we treat one another.
I can teach knowing the mail carrier, the grocer, the hardware clerk, the baker all by name.
I can teach living by the golden rule- to love and care for one another, because all of our lives


I can teach conflict resolution.
I can teach collaboration.
I can teach open mindedness.
I can teach tolerance.
I can teach empathy.
I can teach a sense of what’s fair and good and right.


I can take the time to teach this every time
even when there isn’t time
because now is the time
because others don’t have any more time.

Because moving forward starts with even the smallest steps of the children who enter my home each day.
I move forward knowing they are growing up, learning from me.

Someday they will be old enough to be on their own.
I hope that the things I teach them come easy, that these ideas are just a part of who they are
and that this makes a difference.

Reflecting and Acting: Worthy Wage Day-May 1, 2015

Reflecting and Acting: Worthy Wage Day-May 1, 2015

Since its inception in 1992, Worthy Wage Day has been a time to raise public awareness of the low wages earned by early childhood educators and the negative effects it has on young children.

WECA has always been involved in this grass-roots campaign-advocating on behalf of the child care workforce. Recently, WECA released Starting Early, Starting Now: Investing in Teachers to Grow Child Care Quality. This report addresses the need for fundamental changes in how child care is financed in Wisconsin.

We sent this report to all members of the Wisconsin State Legislature. WECA staff met with members of the Joint Finance Committee to discuss the value of investing in early childhood education and the necessity for a worthy wage for this workforce.

Soon, WECA along with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy will conduct an early childhood workforce study. It will examine providers’ educational levels, experience, job satisfaction, turnover, retention, and compensation. It will also study why child care providers leave this field and where they go.

Worthy Wage Day depends on child care providers sharing what the impact of earning a low wage has on themselves individually, their families, and the children they care for. Here then, are perspectives from the field.

Andrea Tallacksen“I have been working in the child care field for 14 years and while I have a college degree, I make significantly less than almost all of my peers with a degree. It can be very depressing to know that I work in a field that I love and know is incredibly important, but I make less than someone handling bags at the airport. I handle something way more important every day. We need to have those in power, those who make decisions about how money is allocated, to recognize the importance of high quality child care and decent compensation.”
-Andrea Tallacksen, infant/toddler teacher at Woods Hollow Children’s Center.

Joan Klinkner“I was fortunate to have a husband with a good paying job, or else I wouldn’t have been able to work as a child care teacher and raise our two daughters. I would like to believe that things have changed, but I still hear the same kind of comments from the general public. These comments show a lack of recognition for the importance of the work of early childhood teachers as well as lack of appreciation for the difficulty of the work. We need to strengthen and reinvigorate our efforts to advocate for the child care workforce.”
-Joan Klinkner, former child care teacher, instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

Annette Wilburn“I have always served low-income families who are eligible for Wisconsin Shares. Yet, my work situation has changed in the last five years. I had to downsize my business and make changes in my life due to the limited income I was able to earn as a family child care provider. I will not give up the fight for what has become my passion. And I have been praying. If we providers today had a mind set to change things like in the past we could work together for change.”
-Annette Wilburn, licensed family child care provider in Milwaukee.

Speak Out Now!

There are many opportunities for Wisconsin child care providers to raise awareness on Worthy Wage Day. Social media can be a prime avenue to use. Here are a few suggestions on what you can do today to help raise awareness of worthy wages for worthy work:

1. Become a Forward for Kids Advocate. Receive email updates on additional advocating opportunities and become a voice for early childhood education.

2. Participate in the #WorthyWages Twitter Storm-Friday, May 1st Noon-1:00 pm.

3. Not on Twitter? Extend the storm on Facebook. Write a post, share your story, or start a discussion on your profile about Worthy Wage Day. Social media has become a strong communication tool. Let’s use it to our advantage.