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New Degree Pays Off

June 30, 2021 by Mandy Byrd |

Candace Woodell holding laptop and smilingEarning a bachelor’s degree and getting K–6 licensure opened up doors for Candace.

After graduating from UNC Greensboro’s online Human Development and Family Studies program in May 2020 and passing the K–6 licensure exams, Candace Woodell got a job teaching second grade at W.B. Wicker Elementary in Lee County. Although she had 10 years of experience as a teaching assistant, this was her first time leading a classroom of her own.

She saw two immediate benefits. She no longer had to drive a bus — which she had to do as a teaching assistant, often taking her boys with her on the early morning routes — and because of her new credential and experience, she started at a higher salary. Her paycheck almost doubled.

“It has all worked out the way it was meant to be,” Candace says. “It was so worth it.”

Gaining Skills and Support — Online

Candace knew she needed to earn her bachelor’s to take the next step in her career. Although she had a decade of experience as a teaching assistant, she needed the bachelor’s credential, and the program helped her develop new skills. The online collaboration made her more of a people person and a better speaker, for example.

Candace says the advising at UNCG was exceptional, and she encourages students not to be afraid to ask for help when they need it.

“The advisors and department staff and faculty are very caring and will find the answers or guide you on how to find the answers,” she says. “They are very willing to accommodate when needed. UNCG wants you to succeed just as much as you do.”

How Perseverance Paid Off

Candace first started the online Human Development and Family Studies program in 2013. She had earned her AAS degree in Early Childhood from a community college and was determined to finish her bachelor’s degree.

She didn’t know it at the time, but Candace would need every bit of that determination to reach her goal.

The mom of three boys had to leave the program suddenly to deal with family issues. She kept working full-time for Lee County Schools and eventually took courses at a college closer to home, but it didn’t work out.

She came back to UNCG in 2015, but another family emergency meant she had to leave again. “I had to be a mom and step away,” she says.

A couple more years passed. During that time, Candace had her fourth child. Although her boys and her job kept her very busy, she credits her oldest son with motivating her to return the final time.

Balancing Work, School, and Family

James was born legally blind, and he had some tooth malformations and missing teeth. Although Candace could not fix his vision, she was “bound and determined to get him a smile.” He had been resisting orthodontic treatment, but one day on the way home from a dental appointment, he made her a deal.

“He said, ‘Mom, I will cooperate and get braces if you go back and finish your degree.’ And that’s when I had to,” she says.

Candace returned to the program in 2018. Her adviser, Kathryn Aldridge, who had become a trusted mentor and advocate for Candace since she first started the program, asked if she was sure.

“The third time’s the charm,” Candace told her. “I’m determined to do it this time.”

With help from her parents, Candace juggled work, school, and family life. She graduated magna cum laude in May 2020, a year after James graduated from high school.

From Learning Online to Teaching Virtually

Starting a new job during a pandemic was not without its challenges, of course.

Like many school districts in the area, Lee County started the year with virtual instruction.

During that time, teachers at W.B. Wicker would arrive at school by 8:30 and teach at their computers until at least 4:00. It’s the largest elementary school in the district, with almost 800 students. Candace also taught after hours as her students were available. Most of her class started the year below grade level. She prefers working with these students because she can see their growth, and she enjoys making her classroom creative and engaging for the children.

Because of her history as an online learner, Candace was a valuable resource for those who were overwhelmed with the new teaching format. She helped her colleagues plan and create as they prepared to teach virtually. (As Lee County transitioned back to face-to-face instruction in October, she taught 8 of her students in person and the other 10 virtually.)

Although she enjoys her new job and didn't mind the extra hours caused by the pandemic, she wished she could spend more time with her own children — but says that putting in extra hours at home was much better than driving the bus. Earning her degree has improved the quality of life for Candace and her family.

“It was a long, hard journey, but it was worth it,” she says.

Earn Your Bachelor's Online

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The original version of this blog was published in November 2020. It has been updated.

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