Member Spotlight: Aarie Wade
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Our members are integrated into their communities in so many ways and show how we are ensuring we are sharing the impact of early education. I hope that NAEYC is always serving as a source of community and encouragement. Our member Aarie Wade is a role model, a community leader, and an example of how NAEYC resources and membership can support an educator’s work and development. I am inspired by Aarie’s dedication to her community, her creativity and perseverance in her practices, and her active involvement with a NAEYC affiliate. It is invigorating to know that she is working to bring opportunities for quality professional development and early learning to those around her. As an advocate for the field, I know Aarie will continue to embody all that NAEYC stands for, and I am excited to cheer her on!
—Michelle Kang, Chief Executive Officer
“It feels good every day, even when the work is hard. My passion has never died, my work as an educator has always been so rewarding, and the good days totally outweigh the bad,” says Aarie Wade, one of NAEYC’s Lasting Legacy Scholars and all-around advocate for early childhood education. Beginning her journey into the field while she, herself, was still only in high school, Aarie quickly knew this was her calling. She comes from a long line of educators, and has been working toward accessible, high-quality education and care for her community ever since.
Working her way through the field, Aarie soon began to focus on bigger-picture issues. “I always wanted to make an impact on a larger scale,” she says. One way she has sought to make a difference is by starting the Black Book Exchange Box, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide access to books that thoughtfully represent Black people and culture. Her organization installs book boxes in local neighborhoods and supplies them with books by and about Black people. The project began out of a desire for the children in her community to have access to books that they could see themselves in. As Aarie notes, “More people should have access to books that represent Black culture, stories, and authors.”
As she moved her way up through leadership roles, she eventually landed as director of education, overseeing educational programming for all ages at Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This program has “a 50-year history of addressing the needs of our neighbors, addressing health, hunger, and education.” As she describes it, Aarie spends her days “meeting with community partners and continuously working to provide unique learning experiences for children and adults in my community.”
While school was still officially remote during the height of the pandemic, Aarie decided that rooms (like conference rooms and other meeting spaces) in her program’s building could be used in creative ways. They could be transformed for school-aged children (kindergarten through grade 8) to spend the day while supervised and socially distant. They offered a safe alternative for working families, with two meals and a place to do their remote schooling. Aarie made this initiative as community responsive and accessible as possible by fundraising enough to cover all the costs for families. Reflecting on the experience, she notes, “I was extremely proud of the work we did to make this happen.”
As Aarie continues her journey through education and leadership, her experience with NAEYC fuels her efforts for quality education, care, and professional development. The position statements on professional standards and developmentally appropriate practice, as well as NAEYC’s research-based publications, have had a particular impact on her: “NAEYC is my go-to resource for literature. I am continuously looking to educate myself and my staff. They have influenced me to never stop learning, advocating, and educating.”
Aarie, as a community leader, also looks to NAEYC as a resource for her advocacy work. As the Western Chapter member-at-large for Michigan’s AEYC affiliate, Aarie remarks on how her membership has expanded her outlook and ability to make a difference: “I have always been passionate about advocacy. NAEYC and MiAEYC have given me so much access and opportunity to get in front of the right people and make an impact on local and national levels.”
She also uses NAEYC materials, resources, and gatherings such as Annual Conference to inform her leadership style. “The more I learned through NAEYC, the higher my expectation for my center and staff became. From advocacy to DAP, to interactions and guidance, I truly appreciate NAEYC for all the work that is put into making sure high-quality learning opportunities are accessible for children, families, and educators.”
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