New Mom, New Career

Heather White

Heather WhiteHeather White was an executive assistant and ran a photography business when a pivotal moment sparked her interest in a career in early childhood education: She had her first child. 

She enrolled her son in a childcare center down the street from her office, and she was able to nurse him on lunch breaks. “Over time, I never wanted to leave,” said Heather. “It was more than me not wanting to leave my baby — I just really loved being in the infant classroom.”

When Heather found herself reading about brain science and child development for fun, she knew she was hooked. She enrolled in UW’s online Bachelor of Arts in Early Care & Education.

Here, the 2018 graduate, who is the founder and director of a future outdoor preschool called Springwood Forest School, talks about how the degree helped her launch a new career. 

Why did you choose the online Bachelor of Arts in Early Care & Education at the University of Washington?

I couldn’t afford to stop working and go back to school full time because I had a baby and a lot of other responsibilities, and so I looked for a program I could do online and independently. I lived in New York at the time, but I wanted to eventually return to my home in Washington state. Both my mom and brother also attended the UW, and so when I found out I could pursue my interest with the UW, I decided to join the family’s alma mater. 

What was the best thing about the program for you? 

This program was so valuable because I didn’t have to put my plans to grow my family on hold while going back to school. I already had a two-year-old child when I started the program and became pregnant with my second child towards the end. I remember going into labor and telling my instructors that I might be late on a few things. Everyone was so excited for me, supportive and flexible about my baby being born in the middle of the quarter. 

When I graduated, I had my 6-month-old baby with me in my Ergobaby baby carrier. I walked up on the stage, shook hands and got my diploma while carrying my baby, which is just such a great reflection on the program. 

What were your instructors like? 

Our instructors did a good job helping our cohort connect by asking us great questions, connecting people’s comments and feedback, and finding themes and narratives within our online discussions. Instructors like Terri Wardrop never shied away from pushing us and asking us to provide good reasons and arguments behind what we were writing. 

What were some of your favorite classes? 

In Engaging Interactions & Environments, we recorded ourselves interacting with children and then reviewed those interactions to find ways we could improve. You could really see how many rich opportunities there were to engage with the children, hear them, build on their learning experience and expand their thinking.

Our classes about cultural responsiveness taught us how to be inclusive in our teaching practice. It gave me a good framework to draw from when working in the field and showed me how damaging teaching with biases could be to children. 

Introduction to Research in Early Care & Education taught me how to navigate research studies, analyze them and write my own research summaries. I spent all my time in that class learning about the benefits of outdoor education. 

What appeals to you about outdoor education, and how did the program help you get your outdoor preschool started?

Research shows that outdoor learning is potent for growing brains and bodies because it’s meaningful and memorable. Learning outdoors supports cognitive, physical and social-emotional development. 

During the program I learned about getting involved in advocacy work. I wrote a lot of letters to our elected officials asking them to support Senate Bill 5151, which licenses outdoor preschools in Washington state. 

What will your preschool be like? 

Springwood Forest School will be an outdoor preschool and early childhood center for infants and toddlers. They’ll be cared for in an all-natural environment with lots of outdoor space, and then after they graduate as big, sophisticated three-year-old children, they’ll get to be outdoors as much as possible during their day. 

What would you say to someone interested in the online Bachelor of Arts in Early Care & Education? 

This program is an investment in both yourself and in the future. I feel that with my degree, I’m an asset to my community. Gaining the knowledge from this program will allow you to be a champion for children in so many ways.