You might have heard this phrase before: It takes a village to raise a child.
At the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, we believe that creating the best possible outcomes for Chicago’s youngest learners means uplifting their whole village—including their families and neighborhoods.
Grow Your Own, the Carole Robertson Center’s apprenticeship model for emerging early learning professionals, exemplifies this “whole-village” approach by recruiting, training, and providing credentialing opportunities for individuals from the communities we serve.
Launched in 2021 as a response to workforce shortages in early childhood education, the Carole Robertson Center’s Grow Your Own apprenticeship has since empowered dozens of Chicago residents to pursue careers in the field.
For Daisy Zavala, a teacher aide at our Little Village flagship site, Grow Your Own has opened up new pathways in both work and life. “The Grow Your Own program has turned my entire life around,” Zavala said. “When I started the apprenticeship, I already knew I wanted to work with children, but I didn’t know what step to take first to get to where I wanted to be. I am now just a few steps away from completing my Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, thanks to the opportunities the Carole Robertson Center has provided me.”
Many of our Grow Your Own participants, like Stephanie Adams, a teacher aide at our North Lawndale flagship site, initially found out about the program as Carole Robertson Center parents. Drawing connections between her roles as both a teacher aide and a mother, Adams reflected: “As a parent, the Grow Your Own program has taught me to have patience with the kids. And professionally, it helps me grow. Through teaching, I get to see all the different ways kids learn.”
Under the mentorship of seasoned early childhood education professionals, Grow Your Own participants gain hands-on experience in Carole Robertson Center classrooms and home visiting sites. Participants complete a full-time, 40-week seminar that combines training sessions with a supervised practicum, transitioning afterward to professional learning tracks and additional opportunities for educational attainment.
Due to Grow Your Own’s intensive apprenticeship model—and the supportive network the Carole Robertson Center provides—participants like Wahidah Abu Taib, a home visitor for our Albany Park flagship site, are well-equipped to balance work and home life.
“By helping me pursue my education and grow to be an independent woman, the Grow Your Own program has deeply impacted my life,” Taib said. “As a parent, this job has helped me understand more about my own children, use the knowledge I have to help my children grow as individuals, and be able to manage my household and job because of the flexibility that my job provides. I’ve proven to myself that I am capable of having a successful career.”
Just like the children they work with, the Carole Robertson Center’s Grow Your Own participants feel empowered to see new possibilities within themselves. For Fredericka Lee, a teacher aide at our Little Village Flagship site, Grow Your Own is synonymous with empowerment: “I found my passion for working with children because of Grow Your Own. Being a mother gave me an understanding of different classroom structures that I’m able to adapt at home with my son. Grow Your Own helped me find a bigger purpose in my life, and I’m continuing my education in ways I used to think were impossible.”
The Carole Robertson Center’s “village” is stronger because of our Grow Your Own participants. Together—united in our service for families, by families, and with families—we create lasting, intergenerational change.