Working Double Duty: Day Early Learning Teacher and Full-Time Student

Day Early Learning teacher U’nique Steward received her associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees over the past four years. While that’s a tremendous achievement for any individual, U’nique did it all while working full time at Day Early Learning.

When U’nique Steward graduated high school, she entered into a career in social work. She says it didn’t take long for her to realize it was not for her. So, she began working on an associate degree and thinking about a bigger plan.

Four degrees before 24. That was the goal U’nique set for herself. It was easy to check off the first degree; she already had her high school diploma. While working on her associate degree, U’nique began her career at Day Early Learning as a teaching assistant.

She always knew she wanted to work with children; that was the original motivation for going into social work after high school. Working at Day Early Learning and contemplating career paths made it more and more obvious to U’nique that early childhood education was her passion.

“If they have the right help and people to develop them, children are awesome,” U’nique said of her desire to work with children. “I love being able to watch them grow into amazing humans that can do anything they want to do. I love helping children in their foundational learning.”

Despite the balancing act of work and school, U’nique took the credits from her associate degree and applied them towards a bachelor’s degree program at Ball State University. She took a full course load of four classes each semester, and in just four semesters, she earned her next degree.

“At my bachelor’s [degree] graduation, there were only four people that received their master’s,” U’nique said when describing her motivation to earn a graduate degree. “They stood in the middle of the floor and were hooded during the ceremony. That was cool to me and made me want that experience.”

So, it was on to the next degree.

Nothing had been easy about the previous three and a half years for U’nique. She was a full-time student who made many sacrifices in her personal and social life to also work a full-time job. That sacrifice paid off when U’nique was promoted to Day Early Learning assistant teacher in 2018. However, when she began her graduate studies, she says she didn’t realize just how difficult the challenge would be.

“My first semester of grad school, when those finals rolled around, I cried and cried and cried,” U’nique said, recalling how she felt working full-time and taking four graduate-level courses. “It was the most overwhelming feeling that I have ever had. Everyone in my support system helped me breathe and was incredible.”

Many deep breaths later, U’nique was promoted to lead teacher at Day Early Learning, and, in December 2020, earned her Master of Arts in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Early Education and a Certificate in Early Childhood Administration.

“It was pretty difficult, one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do,” she said of completing her graduate degree. “Knowing my goals in life and knowing what I wanted to do, I pushed through.”

Having earned her fourth degree before she turned 24, U’nique’s goals were complete. But as proud as she was of the accomplishment, she says she is already on to the next goal. U’nique will continue her career at Day Early Learning and is working on moving into a leadership role.

“U’nique was always willing to take on more responsibilities while working 40 hours per week and being dedicated to her studies,” said Amy Cavin, center director at Day Early Learning at Park 100. “U’nique has a positive attitude, a passion for young children and a drive to learn and grow.”

As an early childhood education teacher, U’nique’s story wouldn’t be complete without a lesson for anyone who reads it. Her advice to people of all ages? Set your own goals, find a support system that motivates you and work hard until you accomplish them.

“You can do it. It is hard and will take sacrifices, but you can do it,” U’nique says.

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