Planting Seeds of Success in Kindergarten

Kindergarten teachers play a crucial role in building the foundation for our children’s educational journey. Dedicated educators– like Hannah McVey from the Aurora Early Learning Center– are not just teaching the ABCs and 123s, they are helping kids grow, enjoy learning, and prepare for a successful future.

A Glimpse Into the Kindergarten Classroom

Every day in Hannah’s classroom is new and enjoyable. The first hour of her day is filled with the joyful buzz of chatter from the 5-6 year olds. They engage in building intricate structures with blocks, unleash their creativity through coloring, and share laughter while racing toy cars. During these moments of unstructured play, the children’s cognitive development is growing while they learn interpersonal skills through social interaction with their classmates and teachers.

As the clock inches towards 9 a.m., the transition from play to structured learning begins. The kindergartners make their way to their desks and go over what classroom responsibilities and learning are planned for the day. From there, the academic day unfolds–reading and writing, math, social studies, and science.

By thoughtfully crafting group activities tailored to each learning level, Hannah ensures that every child receives the attention and support they need to succeed, enabling her to accommodate the diverse needs of her students. The student’s classwork is designed to be split into two-week long units exploring how the world works with their learning group–a carefully curated team of students, selected to match progress while still allowing each child to be challenged.

The Impact of Early Education

Currently Kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of Illinois, but the impact of early education is profound due to its role in shaping crucial cognitive, social, and emotional development in young children. These foundational skills lay the groundwork for academic success, school readiness, and a lifelong enthusiasm for learning. In a nation where over 2 million students drop out of high school every year in the United States, it costs communities approximately $272,000 per dropout in public assistance, healthcare, and incarceration expenses. 

However, among these concerning statistics, research shines a hopeful light on the significance of early education. Research has shown, children in today’s early education programs not only experience personal growth, but also have greater chances of success. Children enrolled in early education programs today are 25% more likely to graduate high school and 4 times more likely to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

“I love seeing how much the kids grow,” Hannah said. “Being able to see how much they change throughout the school year, how much they can come out of their shell since the first day of school and seeing how much they grow as individuals–socially and emotionally, but also academically–is probably my favorite thing about teaching.” 

Embrace Your Journey At One Hope United

As part of OHU’s kindergarten team, teachers find a supportive and collaborative environment with accessible lesson plans at their fingertips. Just like Hannah, they are equipped to inspire learning and curiosity in their students, setting them on a path to success from day one. To offer full support, we include assistant teachers in the classroom to ensure both our students and teachers are supported. 

But it’s not just about the classroom–it’s about being part of a community. Our regular events include art fairs, science fairs, and open houses, creating a genuine relationship between families and teachers. Through our parent portal, communication becomes seamless so parents and teachers are on the same page about their child’s education and developmental growth.

As a kindergarten teacher at OHU, your role extends far beyond education. You’re influencing and molding the next generation. If you’re ready to embark on your teaching journey with One Hope United, click here.

One Hope United Welcomes Nicole Dunham as CPO

One Hope United is thrilled to welcome Nicole Dunham as its new Chief People Officer. With over 23 years of experience in human resources across both the non-profit and for-profit sectors, Nicole brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to OHU.

Nicole’s impressive career has seen her excel in a range of human resources functions, from recruitment and retention to performance management, training and development, and employee relations. She has also led successful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, while ensuring compliance with legal and ethical standards.

Most recently, Nicole served as Chief Human Resources and Compliance Officer for PrimeCare Health, a federally qualified community health center in Chicago. Her leadership helped the organization deliver quality, affordable care to medically underserved populations in the city’s West and Northwest sides.

Nicole has also served as Vice President of Human Resources at Illinois Action for Children, where she provided leadership and support for early education and other family and community support services. She holds a BA in Organizational Communications/Marketing and an MS in Human Resource Development from Indiana State University. Nicole has also earned an MA in Organizational Leadership at Lewis University, a Graduate Certification in Training and Development at Roosevelt University, and is a SHRM Certified Professional.

At OHU, Nicole will be responsible for developing and executing the organization’s human resources strategy, which includes recruiting, retaining, and developing top talent. Her focus on creating a positive organizational culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion will ensure that OHU is well-positioned to continue its mission of supporting children and families.

Hope Members share the excitement in having Nicole join the organization and look forward to the positive impact she will have on our organization and the communities we serve. Her extensive experience in human resources, coupled with her commitment to social justice and equity, make her an ideal fit for our organization. Welcome to OHU, Nicole!

Black Excellence in Leadership: A Conversation with ELCD Executive Director, Kenny Shackelford

As we celebrate Black History Month, we are reminded of the significant contributions of Black leaders throughout history and the contributions that Black leaders continue to make today to better our society and communities. Today we recognize the accomplishments of Kenny Shackelford, a Black leader at OHU, whose work impacts not only the organization but also the communities we serve.

Holding many roles in the early childhood education field including Teacher, Educational Coordinator, and Assistant Director, Kenny Shackelford has continued to grow his career and currently oversees OHU’s entire Early Learning & Childhood Development division as the Executive Director. Kenny is continuously recognized among staff, peers, and other leaders as an inspiring leader with a remarkable ability to motivate and guide his team to success.

Kenny Shackelford, Executive Director of ELCD

While working here at OHU, what effort or achievement are you most proud of?

At the moment, I would have to say I am most proud of having the opportunity to work alongside my Early Learning & Child Development teams (ELCD), really the administration and the entire teaching personnel. They have weathered day in and day out, through the pandemic woes and they continue to push through a critical staffing shortage within ELCD.  Every day they come to work putting forth their very best and that is all I can ask for from my teams!

What issues surrounding race or equality have you tackled during your career?

When I first started to answer this question, I didn’t think that I have had to directly tackle any issues in my professional career when it comes to race and equality, but as I really think about it and consider my experiences, I recognize I’ve tackled race issues more than I realized before. I have learned to navigate the inevitable encounters as a professional black man over my tenure. I have learned to master the art of code-switching, when this skill must be exercised, and how to pick up on unconscious bias to those who may not even be aware of what they are saying.

In your opinion, what is the importance of recognizing and celebrating Black History Month?

Black History Month is paying homage to those who paved the way for a better future life for this generation of African Americans today. It’s about giving respect to those who fought for the rights we deserve and for us to reflect back on lessons that can be learned to help us continue to work collectively today to make inequality a thing of the past!

Kenny Shackelford (far right) with his Bridgeport Early Learning Center team.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the young Black girl or boy that looks up to you as a leader in our community?

Be true to yourself. Be your authentic self. Trust your instincts. And what I feel is most important, do not let anyone make you feel bad for speaking up about something you believe in. That does not mean it is okay to “pop off at the mouth” (as the young people would say… I think) whenever you feel like it, but instead, find a way to convey your message in such a manner that allows what you’re trying to say to be truly heard. As we continue to become a more inclusive world, it’s important to recognize that as a society, we still have work to do.

Meet Shari, Infant Teacher at Joliet Early Learning Center

Meet Shari, an Infant Teacher at our Joliet Early Learning Center in Joliet, Illinois. She became a Hope Member in 2019 and teaches infants alongside her two Assistant Teachers, Rocio and Ariana. Since she shares a name with another Hope Member at the Joliet Early Learning Center, the students have lovingly dubbed her with the name “Ms. Baby Shari.”

At home, Shari also goes by the name “Mom” to her three adult children and you can probably find her chasing after her sweet dog, Gunner. Her positive and loving energy is infectious and warms up every space she walks into. We talked with Shari about what inspired her to join OHU, the best part about being an Early Learning Center Teacher, and more.

OHU Teacher, Shari smiles at one of her students playing.
Shari and Assistant Teacher, Ariana, playing with two of their students. 

What did you do before coming to One Hope United?

I did work at another daycare center, but then I had a 15 year hiatus where I was working at a cabinet shop as a Cabinet Finisher. I stained and lacquered cabinets. I did enjoy that, but then the housing market crashed and I thought: Let’s go back to what I know.

What do you love about working here?

We are such an inclusive organization, we don’t turn anybody away. Everybody is welcome. Working here, I feel like family. I’ve never felt so appreciated working in a place before. They really take care of you here, listen to your concerns and act on them. It’s just amazing! And it’s really easy to make it amazing when the people you work with are amazing.

Teacher, Shari, and Assistant Teacher, Rocio, take a walk outside with students at the Joliet Early Learning Center.
Taking a walk around the block with her students and Assistant Teacher, Rocio.

What is your day-to-day like as a Teacher at OHU?

Every day is a little different. I work with babies, and you kind of just have to go off their mood. Whatever they’re feeling is what we go with. In the morning when they come, they usually play and I get breakfast ready. My Assistant Teachers come in at 8 am. The babies play, we read stories, we do projects, and a lot of hugs. A lot of hugs… that’s the best part. I get paid to love, it doesn’t get any better than that! Whatever the babies need, that’s what they get.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming an Early Learning Center Teacher?

Be able to go with the flow. #1 you need to love it and #2 you just need to be able to go with the flow. We help each other out, sometimes you’ll help in another room and you get to learn other rooms and ages.

One Hope United Teacher, Shari, feeds a baby at lunch.
Lunchtime! Helping one of the littlest eaters in the class enjoy his lunch!

What are you most proud of since becoming a Hope Member?

The relationships I’ve been able to build with the families. I’ve always told the parents, “Your babies are our babies and we’re a team.” We take care of their babies all day long and try to be like a second set of “parents” while mom and dad are at work.


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