NEWARK, Ohio, Nov. 16, 2016 — After quitting a corporate job lasting 10 years in the insurance industry, Tracy Stainer found her calling as a teacher in a childcare center. A year later, she bought the center. Stainer has been owner of Kid's Garden Childcare Center in Mount Vernon for 13 years and is using her education from Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) to better the services her center provides.
"Personality tests always told me I should work in humanities with children or families," said Stainer. "I realized I love teaching. I love kids. A preschool position was open when we moved to Mount Vernon from Columbus, so I took a chance."
That chance turned into a life-changing event when the owner decided to sell the center less than one year after Stainer took the teaching position. Stainer said she went in blind, having never owned a business. She hired an accountant and bookkeeper as well as an administrator who had been with the center for years to help her run her new venture.
"After about five years I thought, 'This administrator isn't going to be with me all the time.' I started putting things in play to better myself," said Stainer. "I got my CDA (Child Development Associate) credential. Then the state started Step Up to Quality, which meant I needed more education. I just knew I would have to get my associate degree to keep up and to make sure my center maintained its reputation of excellence."
Stainer was in her 40s when she started at COTC and was already juggling a busy life as a mom, grandmother and small business owner. She has been enrolled part time in the early childhood education technology program for the past four years and will graduate in December.
She's managed it all by practicing time management, reminding herself to put one foot in front of the other, and having a lot of faith and prayer, she said. She also received financial assistance though the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, which has reimbursed 80 percent of Stainer's tuition and book costs. The TEACH Grant Program provides grants to students who are completing or plan to complete course work needed to begin a career in teaching.
"I knew that coming to COTC was going to help my business become better, and it has tenfold," said Stainer. Some of the improvements she's put into practice include adopting a research-based curriculum, using natural furnishings and decorations, identifying and resolving sensory issues, and implementing new classroom management techniques. Moreover, she's inspired her staff to pursue their own college education.
"I currently have teachers pursuing their bachelor's degrees with the TEACH Program because they were excited about the experiences I shared and are looking forward to having the same engaging experiences," said Stainer. "The parents benefit, the students benefit and all of us as coworkers benefit because there is so much more that we can share with each other. That's what helped me make the center better over the last four years: having that continuous learning."
The inspiration hits close to home, too. Stainer's oldest daughter is a college student and her younger daughter is taking two College Credit Plus courses through COTC at East Knox High School. Setting an example for her girls has inspired Stainer to go further. She's already looking at bachelor degree programs and has her eyes set on getting a master's degree by age 50. Her experience at COTC has given her that confidence and desire to learn more.
"The professors and their knowledge are phenomenal. The professors make me want to succeed for them. I see how hard they work, and I want to make it worth it for them. I have not met a person at COTC yet that I don't feel wants to see their student succeed. The Reese family allowing me to go to Italy was over the top," said Stainer, who participated in the Italian Immersion cultural exchange program in July 2016. This program is funded by J. Gilbert and Louella H. Reese.
"Professionally, the early childhood education program at COTC has developed me beyond anything I could have imagined. Personally, it's brought me out of my comfort zone and has shown me that those risks are worth taking. I can't stress enough how much this experience has benefited me."
Central Ohio Technical College opened in 1971 and is celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2016. COTC is a fully accredited, public college dedicated to providing high-quality, accessible programs of technical education in response to current and emerging employment needs, as well as encouraging the professional development of students, staff, faculty and administrators to assist them in achieving their maximum potential. COTC is the only technical college in Ohio operating four full-service campus locations: Newark, Coshocton, Knox and Pataskala.