Alumni Profile: Bria Jenkins, CDA ’14

“I really like what I do,” says Bria Jenkins.  She has just finished a 45-hour week as a preschool instructor at Right Steps education, but is still of energy – especially when it comes to talking about her job.  Thoughtfully and enthusiastically, she describes her roles and responsibilities as a co-teacher at the Center City childcare center.

For example, this week’s classroom theme is Winter, so all the activities – designed by Bria and her colleague to be developmentally appropriate – are centered on Winter topics.  Bria writes the lesson plan every other week, trading off with her co-teacher.  “We started around the same time together, so we built the classroom together. Everything in there is something we created together.”

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Bria sent us photos from her classroom. “This is our morning circle area where we usually put the season on the wall. We practice our alphabet, go over the calendar, and pick our jobs every week.”

Bria has seventeen nephews and nieces, so she was already familiar with childcare at a practical and instinctual level before enrolling at YouthBuild.  However, she says, the program taught her important fundamentals in professionalism and child development.  “I’ve learned not to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the children – now I explain the decision to them,” she says.  “It’s amazing to think about how much time we spend with the kids, who spend most of their waking hours with us.  We are responsible for what they do, what they learn, what they eat.  We have a huge impact on them.  It’s a big responsibility.”  Her favorite part of the job, she says, is hearing from parents about what lessons students have brought home – whether it’s math skills or eating new foods.  “They might not show it in the classroom,” she said, “but it’s enough to know they took it home.”

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“Another recent theme was ‘New Year.’ The children made stars to represent how colorful their year would be.”

Bria explains that because of the winter, the students aren’t going on their daily morning walk to Rittenhouse Sqaure – but they still go in the afternoon when it’s warmer.  She laughs appreciatively as she describes how diligent her students are about holding on to the walking rope during these excursions.  “Even when they stumble a little,” she says, “you know they’ve still got their hand on the ring.”

Bria knows a thing or two about diligence herself. Before coming to YouthBuild, she worked at Bayada as a home health aide and thought that she would enroll in YouthBuild’s healthcare vocation track. When she heard about the Childhood Development Associate program, though, she realized that was a better fit for her because of her interest in working with children. Once in the program, she set her sights on success and securing employment. Her favorite field trips, she said, were the ones where the group visited actual childcare centers. “I wanted to see professionals doing what I was trying to become,” she explains. “I think my success comes from wanting it so badly.”

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“Each student created and named their own snowman.”

Now that she is employed as an early childhood educator, Bria wants to use her limited free time (she works 2 evenings and 2 weekend mornings at another job) to enroll in college online.  Her plan is to continue studying early childhood education, so that she can eventually advance in the field.  “I see what our school director does and it interests me,” she explains. “She started as a kindergarten teacher, so why not me?”

Online learning works best for self-directed learners, and Bria is confident that this option is a good fit for her.  “I know I’m a dedicated person, so when I say I’m going to do something I know I’m going to do it.”

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Bria’s student photo from the Class of 2014 acceptance ceremony


Bria came to YouthBuild after her mother fell ill and she dropped out for over a year due to emotional distress.   “Then it took me a while to go back, because you don’t want to go back to school and face the fact that you dropped out,”  she explains. She reached a turning point after her birthday, however, when she realized that she was running the risk of becoming too old to earn a diploma. “I started evaluating myself and my situation, and asking myself ‘where can I go from here without completing my education?'” she recalls.  A friend told her about YouthBuild and they applied together to the program. (Bria’s mother is now recovered and well.)

At YouthBuild, Bria found supports and challenges that helped her fulfill her potential. “The close-knit family was inspiring to me,” she said, “and learning about leadership at YouthBuild made me step up and want to be more and be better.” She developed a close and positive relationship with Justine Philyaw, the CDA program coordinator, and engaged in friendly competition with one of her close friends and classmates to keep each other motivated.  In August, she graduated from YouthBuild. After interning with two other childcare facilities, Bria found a position at Right Steps – thanks to the friend with whom she was “competing.”

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“This was our winter/Christmas classroom door. Each child had an ornament hanging from the door.”

As a recent graduate of YouthBuild Philly, Bria still receives postsecondary counseling and support from the school.  She is in regular contact with a postsecondary coordinator. “The followups make me feel good,” she says.  “Even though I have a supportive family, it’s good to know that someone’s still looking out for me and I know I can contact them.”  Just this week she contacted her postsecondary coordinator for advice on applying to online college programs.

“I really love YouthBuild,” she says. “If I could, I would go back and continue my education there.”

Spotlight On: Child Development Associate Training

“Becoming an early childhood professional is something I always wanted.  Working with children is more than a job to me. Once I leave the center every child is still in my heart.  There are so many children not in safe environments, and I want to provide a safe environment for any children that may not have that at home.”

– Daionna, YouthBuild Philly Class of 2014.

Daionna, quoted above, was a member of YouthBuild Philly’s inaugural Child Development Associate (CDA) vocational training program in the 2013-2014 year.  Now in its second year, the CDA track is one of four vocational training options for YouthBuild students, along with Building Trades, Healthcare and Business Administration.

Students in the CDA program divide their time between classroom learning and internships at child care facilities around the city.  Classroom time covers the research and theory of childhood development and early learning as well as professional skills relating to safety, parent communication, and reporting.  Additionally, students participate in service learning projects with organizations like WePAC and PlayWorks.  Over the course of the year, students develop a portfolio of work that includes lesson and activity plans, healthy meal plans, and a professional philosophy statement.

YouthBuild Philly launched the CDA track to build a strong pipeline to employment.  Demand is high in the childcare field, and the CDA certification is a critical asset for students seeking employment in the field.  Several students from the first Class of 2014 are now employed at childcare facilities or as full-time nannies.

CDA Coordinator Justine Philyaw sees additional, personal advantages in the training program for students. “I’m interested in how this program is affecting our students as parents,” she said.  Half of the students in this year’s program have one or more children, and what they learn in the classroom is useful to them as parents and educators.  For example, students often bring activities home to try out with their children.

Along with stable employment, Philyaw added, the field of early childhood education offers flexible schedules, which students can leverage to advance their careers or balance their work with other responsibilities.  Amber – another 2014 alum – has plans to start taking college classes online, which will fit in well with her downtime (read: naptime) as a nanny and allows her to further her education and career without compromising her availability to clients.  More and more childcare facilities are now open at night or even overnight, too, and childcare professionals can work night shifts to have more flexibility during the day.

In addition to the career advantages listed above, CDA students choose the training program because of their interest in working with children.  Many CDA students have witnessed or personally experienced dangerous and unsupportive childcare conditions, and feel called to create safe and educational spaces where young learners can thrive.  In Diaonna’s words, “it’s more than a job.”

This month, we’ll be posting more student and alumni stories with a focus on the CDA track, as well as updates from the CDA classroom.  To follow along, please bookmark or subscribe to our blog – or sign up for our new monthly “Spotlight” newsletter, which will feature a new YouthBuild Philly topic (starting in January with childcare) each month.