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Student Success Stories

For those who ask, "What is TECTA?" or "Is it really worth my time?", read below just a few of our many success stories from our students.

Melanie Browning

The Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance (TECTA) has positively impacted my career as well as the lives of the children and families with whom I interact daily.   I have such a deep gratitude for the opportunity TECTA has provided to further my education and effectively prepare me for my career in early childhood education.

As a young adult, I did not babysit much or spend a lot of time caring for small children.  To this day, one of my older sisters will comment, “I cannot believe you have children, but I really cannot believe you work at a preschool!”  While this seemed like an unexpected career path for me, it was clearly a plan of God.  His hand has been so evident throughout my journey.  I am grateful He opened the door for me to know about TECTA and utilize the educational benefits and career training it affords.

Prior to having children of my own, I had a successful career in the investment world.  Just before my first child was born, I left my investment career to be a stay at home wife and mother.  I spent a decade devoted solely to my family.  When my children got older and a little more independent, I wanted to get back in to an employment position that still provided ample time to devote to my children.  But now, I had a heart for all children!  When a teaching position opened at our church preschool, my husband encouraged me to apply.  I thought he was crazy, … I didn’t have any formal training to be a qualified teacher!  Based on my heart for children, the preschool committee decided to give me a chance to work with their program.  I began looking for opportunities to educate myself and better my teaching skills.  That pursuit led me to TECTA.   I went through the Orientation Class and thought I had absolutely hit the jackpot for useful information!  I soon learned that this was truly just an introduction to the wealth of knowledge and learning opportunities available to me.  Through their encouragement, I began the process of taking classes toward my Child Development Associate Credential (CDA).  This is a nationally recognized credential in early childhood education.

Admittedly, I was a bit intimidated to take that first step.  The process requires four college courses.  I had not been in a college classroom in over twenty years!  Thankfully, the TECTA staff walked me though the process.  TECTA provided scholarship assistance for me to enroll in these classes.  The course work was very useful in my classroom immediately.  The class instructors were excellent!  The ladies who instructed each of my classes had a tremendous amount of insight and experience to offer from their own personal careers in early education.  I think what encouraged me the most was that each of my instructors took a personal interest in seeing every student in their classes succeed.  Mind you, every student came from a different background and work environment.  Yet these instructors brought each student through their classes with an understanding of how to be successful with the information and tools provided in their course.

The TECTA employees are no longer business acquaintances: I consider them friends.  Last week I completed the final steps of applying for my CDA.  Within days I received notice of my successful achievement of my CDA.  I could not have achieved this milestone without TECTA and its caring staff.  What is most meaningful about this achievement is not the credential itself, but rather the positive impact that I have seen this process have on my career and the children and families I serve.  Three years ago I began as a timid teacher.  Today, I am now the confident Director of our church preschool.  I owe a large part of my success to TECTA.

With gratitude,
Melanie T. Browning

Alexis Robinson

Hello, my name is Alexis Robinson. My journey with TECTA started in 2007. My Director at the time, Nina Dudley, insisted on all of her employees completing the 30 hour orientation.  My thought was, “okay,  great I will get my training hours and I won’t have to do anything else for the year!” I completed the 30 hours with Lisa Maddox Vinson and enjoyed every bit of it. I was exposed to different techniques for transitions, classroom management as well as developmentally appropriate practice of Early Childhood.  In 2008, I started my classes to get my CDA, I really began to find my way in Early Childhood. During this process, I met and began networking with other teachers and administrators throughout those four classes. I met my  best friend Ronda Koory  in the first  CDA class. She was a great sound board and study partner.

The following semester in 2009, I met another milestone when I received my technical certificate through Nashville State. Fast forwarding to 2012, I earned my Associates of Applied Science.  This was a lot of hard work but it was worth every bit of it; as I continued through the years of my degree I have also ways depended on the ladies at TECTA. They provided  so much encouragement  and support for me, which was the aid that I needed. I am now embarking on my latest accomplishment which is my Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Administration. 

I have said too many people that I was done with school during each milestone. However, I persisted on for many reasons. Each time changing because of my goals that I have set. I believe all my goals have been met for now. So thank you Linda Sitton, Nina Dudley, Jennifer Jackson, Lisa Maddox Vison, Claudia Rodriguez, Hannah Brown, Tim Robinson and a special thank you to Brenda Jerles, my very first teacher. I appreciate everything you all have done for me!

Emily Strawser

Hello! My name is Emily Strawser. I am a senior at the University of Tennessee at Martin majoring in Family and Consumer Science. I’ve always wanted to work in Early Childhood, but I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do. I have been blessed with the opportunity to do my internship with TECTA at Austin Peay over the summer, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else! Claudia Rodriguez, Lisa Maddox-Vinson, and Jennifer Jackson have been such an influence in my life. They are thoughtful, caring, loving, generous, helpful, dedicated, optimistic, supportive, and overall amazing women. They have made me feel welcome and ensured that I am comfortable, happy, and that I understand everything they tell me.

Claudia, Lisa, and Jennifer have become my three mother hens, and I will always be thankful I had this opportunity to help them this summer. I’ve met many people involved in childhood education in the community as well. I have learned what TECTA is in its entirety, about organizing student files, closing orientations, preparing for a conference and meetings, and organizing textbooks used for CDA prep courses. I have really learned a lot about early childhood this summer, and I know I will use this information in the future.

Natalie Wade

Hello my name is Natalie Wade. I already had a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management from Bethel University in McKenzie, TN before I started my TECTA journey.  I had opened my own family childcare and needed training.  Information about the TECTA program came my way, and even though it meant going backward in a way, I did my 30-hour orientation and then immediately started training for my CDA.  Once I finished the classes for the CDA, I immediately began to pursue my technical certificate in early childhood education.

I attended classes for 2 days per week for a year and a half to earn my CDA and technical certificate from Nashville State Community College.  At that point, professors from UT Martin held a meeting about a new online master’s degree program.  I had thought I would have to get a bachelor’s in early childhood before I could go on to a master’s degree.  However, I found out at that meeting that UT Martin would accept me into the program with my bachelor’s and a technical certificate.  I enrolled in the fall and began my pursuit of a master’s degree. I received TECTA funding for all but my very last semester of my master’s.

After graduating with a Masters of Science in Family and Consumer Science with an emphasis in Child and Family Studies in May of 2013, I embarked on a lifelong dream of becoming a writer.  In October of 2013, my first book, Lily’s Feather Kite, was released by AuthorHouse Publishing.  My second book, The Trials of Otto, will be released in August of 2014 by Tate Publishing.  The third book, Lily’s Flower Igloo, will be released in September of 2014 by AuthorHouse Publishing.  Without TECTA I would have never been able to pursue my master’s degree.  Getting my master’s changed everything and put me in a position to where I could pursue my lifelong dream.

Stefanie Morris

My name is Stefanie Morris.   I was diagnosed in first grade with dyslexia, dysphasia, and developmental dysgraphia.  My mother was told I would never do well in school and not to expect much from me in the way of academics.   I received special education resources from 1st grade through graduation in 1990.  While I don’t recall being made fun of or being laughed at – I can tell you that school never came easy to me.  Even though it was difficult, it was expected of me that I would attend college, so I attempted it right out of high school…and failed miserably.  After one semester I dropped out of school.

Fast forward to 2013 – I heard about “TECTA” through two of my co-workers; when I asked about their classes, I was linked to Claudia Rodriguez in Clarksville’s TECTA office.  The first class I took through TECTA was required for my job then I discovered I would be able to attend Nashville State and work towards my Child Development Accreditation.  I was fearful at first because of my prior college experience – could I be successful this time?  Would my learning disabilities get in the way?  However, with support and encouragement from my husband, friends, coworker and all of the staff in the TECTA office, I decided to GO FOR IT!

I enrolled in two classes at Nashville State Community College for Spring 2014 semester.  I took Initial Practicum and Health & Safety.  I am proud to say that earned an A in both classes!  It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  I spent many hours reading and re-reading my text books.   NSCC made resource help available to me, but so far, I have not needed them.  I have been encouraged and supported by my instructors who understand my learning disabilities.  In addition to their moral support, I would not have been able to take advantage of this opportunity without the financial aid from TECTA.

I am excited about my future and the path I am taking with TECTA and Nashville State Community College. 

Betty Nall

Hi, my name is Betty Nall and I am 36 years young.  I am married and have 3 children of my own and one we recently adopted.  Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.  Unfortunately, when I graduated high school, my parents could not afford to send me to college so I went to work.  I didn’t have anyone who told me that I could work through college or get grants to pay my way so off to work I went.  I worked in Preschool for a few years and then went on to work in an office as a receptionist.
Many years later, my husband asked me if I was ever going to follow my dream.  I currently teach Preschool at Pleasant View Christian School and I love it.  But I do not have a degree and eventually, it is going to come down that we have to have one.  So, with the encouragement of my family, I started looking into taking some classes.  I still wasn’t real sure.  I have a 15 year old son, Zach, who is an avid sports nut.  He plays any sport he can.  I also have a 21 year old daughter, Meghan, who is currently enrolled at Austin Peay.  My youngest is 11, that would be Cody, and I just wasn’t convinced I could leave them very much at night or miss out on ball games because I was the mom who did EVERYTHING!

I decided it would help myself and my family if I went back so here I am into the 2nd semester and I love every minute of it!! It has been a little challenging at times, juggling family, work and school but everything has been wonderful.  This semester I am taking one class online which I was afraid would be a lot harder, but it has been good too.  The teachers have been very helpful and I have changed a lot of things currently in my classroom just because of these classes.

This year is the first year that we do not have workbook pages! We decided not to do that because of the TECTA orientation class that I took last May with Lisa Maddox-Vinson.  My kids social and emotional skills have improved little by little and they are having so much fun learning through play.  I have added a sensory bin to my room that we switch from rice to corn.  I have also shared some of the things I have learned with my director and she has changed her classroom and the other classrooms as well.  I am so very blessed to be able to have this opportunity to better myself and it has helped my center as well.  I owe it all to my encouraging husband and family, AND the great people at TECTA!!

Lisa Goff

Hello, my name is Lisa Goff and I am happily married with 3 children. I work part time at a Pleasant View Christian School as a 2 year old teacher and I love it! It was like any other day at naptime and we were in the playroom talking about college. A college aged student was talking about it and spoke of a program through Austin Peay that they were offering through TECTA and how it worked. I was curious and so was my best friend that is a 3 year old teacher in the same school and so was the other teacher that worked in my class with me. We got online and decided to sign up for the orientation class that TECTA offered. At that time I was pregnant with my daughter, Maribeth, who is now 3 months old. So I thought you’re never too old to teach dog new tricks, right? It had been a long time since I had been in school and I was very optimistic. I had a great support team though, my husband was on board and so was my boss. I had a lot on my plate as you can see. I had the stress of being a mom, plus working part time and being pregnant it was definitely not easy but I was determined to better myself. I mean let’s be honest being in a childcare does not pay much but that is not why you get into childcare it’s the children that is the reward. My determination was based on a goal I had set for myself and that was to have my own classroom. I share a classroom now and I am more of an assistant teacher than a teacher. I want to be the teacher of my own class. When I started going to orientation at Austin Peay it was hard at first being pregnant and having some issues with my pregnancy. I missed one day out of all of them nothing was going to stop me. I am one of those people that when something is set in my mind I do not give up. That is one thing I can say that keeps me going. My best friend that took the class with me talked about what we wanted from the class and we decided to go all the way with getting our CDA and going further than that and getting our Associates in Early Childhood Education. We had a great teacher in our class Ms. Lisa Maddox-Vinson, who encouraged us to go further just not stop at this class. I felt like even though we don’t feel like it we do make a difference in the children’s lives that we touch every day. She did teach me that we all are special and it takes special people to teach children and love them. I felt like anyone that works in child care is important and has made some impact in a child’s life. I learned so much from her I really admire her energy and love for children. She made it easy to decide to further my education. I learned a lot of things that I did not know and that made my job easier with being more involved in my classroom.         

After the TECTA Orientation class me and my best friend, Betty, decided to go forward with our education and get the CDA certificate and then go after our Associates in Early Childhood Education. It is a lot easier to having someone with you along the way that helps you be accountable for what you need to do and get done. We don’t always like to be pushed to do things but when you know it’s for your own good it’s better to be pushed then pulled away from what you really want to do with your life. So, I started to take the classes required to get the CDA certificate. I take two a semester and so far I have a grade point average of 3.95! I have never been so proud of myself. I never thought I would ever be one to accomplish anything and before when I always started something I always made an excuse as to why I stopped it. Something always came up or got in the way. In the beginning I took 2 classes in Spring 2012, I only missed one day from each class and that was to have my daughter, Maribeth on my 40th birthday. What a beautiful present to receive and got done with those.  I took those classes at Nashville State Community College where the process was easy to get started. I had an A-B average in both those classes and TECTA was there to pay for my next two classes except for the $100 ($50 for each class). How awesome is that!! How can you not take this type of opportunity when it’s practically free to better yourself?  I next went to the next 2 classes that I enrolled into the Fall 2012 semester. Everything in life is not absolutely free or easy to get but with determination things are not always out of reach. Take it from me, if I can do this anyone can! It makes you feel good to know that you can make a difference in a child’s life and in your own by realizing that you are able to do things that you thought were out of reach. With the TECTA program things are possible and that makes it a little easier. So strive to do your best to show yourself that you can do it!! Take it from a lady who thought that all she was ever going to do was to be stuck at some job she did not love or like with people she did not like and not like who she was. But, working in childcare made all the difference for me and a sense of wanting to learn more and having a real reward in life. The children are what make it all worthwhile. Do it to make a difference. Don’t you remember the teacher that made a difference in your life?? We all do! So be one of those, how exciting! I can’t wait. Thank you TECTA for opening a door and giving me an opportunity to make a difference!


Nina Dudley

Hello Everyone!  My name is Mary Dudley, my friends call me by my childhood nickname, Nina.  I am a native Clarksvillian and I am a success story.  In October 2013 I earned my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education Administration.  I cannot tell you how proud and excited I was as I walked across the graduation stage and received my diploma. That day marked an important milestone for me and my family as I became the first person in my generation of my family to get a 4 year college degree. I once heard a song that said, “You don’t know my story, all the things that I’ve been through.  You can’t feel my pain, what I had to go through to get here”. These words described exactly how I felt as the president of the university handed me my diploma and said congratulations.

A few years ago, if anyone asked me what I did for a living, my answer was “I take care of children.  Today, when someone asks me that question, my answer is “I am an early childhood professional!  My education journey began with a TECTA administrator’s orientation in 2002.  After that orientation, I knew that my passion to teach children was not just about having a job.  It was about making a difference in the lives of young children.  My overall premise concerning early childhood education is best summed up in a poem by Forrest Witcraft that says "a hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child".

Throughout my educational journey I just wanted to be better at my job.  I was determined to learn all that I could for the sake of the children.  In 2004, I finished the course requirements and earned my child development credential (CDA).  I thought I was done after that.  However, with the encouragement of my husband, my daughter, and the support of the TECTA staff at Austin Peay State University, I went on to earn both my Technical Certificate (2006) and my AA degree (2009) in early Childhood Education from Nashville State Community College.  During these years I drove back and forth to Nashville for classes.  I worked full time and attended NSCC in the evening.  I was often on the road late at night driving home from class.  I thank my family for eating all those bologna sandwiches and hot dogs when I was too tired to cook for them.  I forgot to mention also that between my technical certificate and my AA degree, I was asked to participate in the pilot program for the Program Administrators Scale for the Middle Tennessee Area.  This meant that I would need to take additional classes in order to meet the qualifications for this credential. During this same time, I was in the middle of seeking National Accreditation for the center where I was the program director.

Once I completed my AA degree, I took a year off from school.  I began work toward my BA degree in August of 2011.  Today I can say that I have now reached one of my life goals.  It was not easy, but it has been worth it.  I had to push pass many obstacles, many sleepless nights, and a recent quadruple heart bypass.  But four weeks after my heart surgery, I walked across a stage, with my family cheering me on, to touch my dream of being a college graduate with a four year degree.  My educational journey has not ended.  It is now time to apply all the things that I have learned to “real” life situations.  But as I begin the next part of my journey, I do so as an early childhood professional and a degree to prove it!

Christina Weathers

My name is Christina Weathers and I have been teaching early education for 16 years. I started seeking to further my education when I learned about TECTA through a child workshop in 2003. I began to explore the idea and the opportunities TECTA offered to childcare teachers in financially helping one to further their education in the early education field.

Although it has taken me several years, I am very grateful for TECTA and its funding that allowed me to continue my education and achieve a college degree when I was not sure financially that it would be possible. I would like to give a giant thank you to TECTA and its staff for their help, support, and encouragement during this journey and I am pleased to announce I have obtained my Associates of Applied Science degree in Early Education Pre-K through 3.

I would also like to personally thank Angelia Thomas, Linda Sitton, Jennifer Jackson, Claudia Rodriguez, Brenda Jerles, and Tracy Harper in their willing, gracious encouragement over the years in helping me continue my educational journey. I am pleased to announce with the help of TECTA, I have obtained my CDA, my Technical Degree in Early Education, and now my Associates of Applied Science in Early Education. I do not think this would have been possible without the assistance of TECTA and its positive encouraging staff. Thank you all so very much!


Jordan Frederick

My name is Jordan Frederick. I am a Music Education major here at Austin Peay. I have worked for TECTA for the past four years as a student worker. Normally, this entails being a labor slave for the university who is helping pay your way through, something I am all too comfortable with happening, but working for TECTA was completely different. It was unexpected, refreshing, and enlightening.

I will begin my story where it all started, with a confused phone call. I had planned on working in the music department, which seemed a natural fit, but all scholarship spots were taken. They advised me to call an organization named TECTA, and I thought to myself “What is a TECTA? Is that like TVA? Do I have to build hydroelectric damns for scholarship work?” The contact they gave me was Jennifer Jackson. I called her one afternoon and told her I was supposed to work for her. After a few confusing moments and words, I ended up in the office and got put to quick work! At first it was copying, shredding, making coffee, or filing. It then turned into making projects for child care providers, cutting out shapes for them to use, making posters, class materials, helping set up for classes, and making TECTA newsletters, and a host of other things. I slowly realized, I am in a department that educates educators! I was a part, though small and indirectly, of shaping people, and children’s lives! As the staff changed, I got to see new faces and interact with new people that made every day interesting. The longer I worked for TECTA, the less is became work, and the more it became like going to visit friends, and slowly, family.

The TECTA team moved from the Claxton to the Sexton, the CLC, and I thought I would have to change scholarship work assignments since it was a pretty long hike from my room. I was going to work for the music department, where it made sense for me to be as a future music educator, but I didn’t. I don’t know why, but something was pulling me back to TECTA. So I bought a bike and made the ride every day over to the new TECTA office, with my backpack full of mail. I don’t know if you believe in any supreme force over the universe, I do, and I believe that people come into your life for a reason. My mother always told me, usually when I was upset, “Jordan, people either come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” I know that the lovely women at TECTA, Jennifer Jackson, Lisa Maddox, and Claudia Rodriguez, are in my life for a very special reason. They have over the past four years been like mothers to me, always accepting, understanding, and incredibly supportive. They are family. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t laugh with all of them, enjoy a conversation about whatever tickled our fancy that day, whether it was moral values, standardized testing, or even how to relax your entire body by relaxing the tongue. I am graduating next semester and have to end my official “work” with them, but they are the kind of people you can’t just tear yourself away from. They are the “lifetime” kind of people.

Through TECTA I have learned so many skills, from filing, building shelves, labeling, using computer programs in new ways, and managing records. I am grateful for their influence in my life, but they have shown me something else as early childhood educators that is incredibly important to my field, and to the field they teach. They have shown me that teachers, through everything they do, influence the world around them. They transform the world. By developing children in an appropriate way (something we like to call DAP), we unleash unlimited potential into this world. We light a flame that can burn brightly and make so much of a difference. By shaping children, we shape the world. As Mr. Rogers said, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” News flash TECTA team, and all those who you touch through your teaching, you ARE the heroes. You are my heroes, and have shown me that I can be a hero to the people I teach through music. There is no greater gift I could ever receive than that, and I guarantee you the students you teach feel the same way. You don’t deal in money or material things; the currency of your profession is love. You give love, get love, and trade love, and no child will ever forget that. What better success story is there than that of learning to making a difference in another person’s life? I can think of none, and I have TECTA to thank for that.

 Ruth Royall

My name is Ruth Royall. I am a 18 month to 30 month old teacher at Carousel Cottage. Presently, I am earning my Early Childhood Degree [Child Development Associate Degree (CDA)] through the TECTA program. This journey began in September of 2012, in which I took the orientation for Infants and Toddlers. The orientation was the determining factor in my decision making process. I have pondered on whether or not if I wanted to pursue a teaching degree, especially with the ages of 0 to 8 years. Throughout the years, I have worked at child care facilities, volunteered at a Head Start and also even had my own in home child care program. Even with all of that, I still was indecisive. The TECTA program was very informative, knowledgeable and willing to assist me with my goal. I am currently taking the first two classes into the preparation for my CDA. I must say its just like any other classes that any college student has ever taken. The professors are well informed. I feel that I will learn a lot and that I have made a great decision on going this route to follow my dreams.