Upskilling in Early Care &  Education

Shariya Dinali Dhammapala

shariya-dinali-dhammapalaShariya Dinali Dhammapala first began working in childhood education over 25 years ago in Sri Lanka. After she moved to the United States, she earned her child development credentials and continued teaching. As she worked her way up to director for the Westminster Presbyterian Church Sunshine Preschool in Olympia, Washington, she had the urge to go back to school herself. “I knew that I needed to learn about the latest research in early childhood education,” said Shariya Dinali.

Here, Shariya Dinali talks about how the online Bachelor of Arts in Early Care & Education at the University of Washington gave her the knowledge and skills she needed to create a better learning experience at her preschool and be an advocate for early childhood educators. 

How have you used what you learned in this program as the director of your preschool?  

I’ve transformed my preschool into a high-quality preschool using all the things I learned. We started teaching a new social-emotional curriculum with puppets and have since had fewer behavioral issues. The puppets have problems, and the kids try to help solve their problems. I can see all the research-based things I learned about working in their minds as the children realize that there are many different ways to cope with a bad situation instead of just crying or being grumpy. 

Why did you choose the online Bachelor of Arts in Early Care & Education program?

I spoke with an adviser from the program named Jenni Campbell because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a full bachelor’s degree. She answered all my questions about what courses I should take at my community college so that I wouldn’t waste my time or money. I really appreciated that she helped me even before I was a student in the program. I also was able to afford to do the degree because I qualified for the Zesbaugh & Anderson-Olsen Scholarship from the UW College of Education. 

What was your experience in the program like? 

A lot of the things I learned made sense and connected with me because of my experience. Learning online was easy because you learn on your own time; you just have to be disciplined. I’m someone who does everything by the book, so I read every article and took lots of notes. I’m so glad I did because I use those notes today. 

What was one of your favorite classes? 

Positive Behavior Support in Early Childhood. I devoured that class from top to bottom. Our instructor, Gail Joseph, gave us so many resources like visuals and ways to design your classroom to help children with challenging behaviors. 

What was your capstone project about?

I wrote a paper about promoting early childhood care as a very important and rewarding career choice for young people. One of the main ways to get young children quality care is for quality teachers, and to keep the quality teachers, you have to pay a good wage. Today, I’m part of a public policy forum for the Washington Association for the Education of Young Children (WAEYC). I’ve talked with Senators Patty Murray’s and Maria Cantwell’s education policy staff about what’s going on in the early childhood field and why it’s important to support the childcare workforce.  

Do you have advice for someone interested in early care and education? 

Do it with the UW. It’s an affordable way to get your degree, especially if you find scholarships. The program has such interesting coursework if you like working with children in that age group. 

What do you plan to do next? 

I’m planning on slowly moving out of the classroom. I’m thinking of getting a master’s so that I could coach future teachers at a community college or high school.