A paycheck, college credits and hands-on classroom experience are fueling the career decision-making process for a group of Yavapai College students participating in an inaugural “Earn While You Learn” experience at the Del E. Webb Family Enrichment Center on the Prescott campus.

Tara O'NeilThe nine men and women in the tuition-free program are spending part of their eight-week intensive in an FEC classroom, interacting with infants, toddlers and preschoolers in the FEC – a campus teaching and learning laboratory -- and part of the day in a YC classroom studying early childhood education.

Everyone involved in the first-of-its-kind YC program, from the prospective educators to the FEC students and staff, are reaping rewards.

“The program helps out the FEC as we return from COVID, giving the FEC teachers an extra set of hands, while the participating students get mentors and the opportunity to put into action what they learn,” said YC Education Professor Tara O’Neill.

“From an employer perspective, it has been very successful, said FEC Interim Director Jeannine Skousen. “During the COVID pandemic, students weren't a part of the classroom. Having student teacher assistants back has brought fresh life into the center. With EWYL, our mentor teachers feel inspired to teach what they know.”

Jonathan Isasi, an aspiring elementary school educator, said applying for EWYL wasn’t a difficult decision. “This program was an amazing opportunity to get some experience working with children. Most college students studying to be teachers don't get a chance to work with children this early in their college career, so I jumped on the opportunity,” he said.

Isasi described EWYL as an “amazing head start” for his teaching journey. “I feel like I am learning some key philosophies of childhood development I am never going to forget or stop utilizing in my career. The mentor teachers I work with are amazing and I feel like I can rely on them whenever I have a question or I'm unsure how to handle a situation with the children. I am becoming more and more confident in my ability to be a part of managing a classroom. I feel like when I start teaching elementary school one day, I will be so much more prepared for the classroom environment.”

Owing to the availability of scholarship money, the need for student aides at the FEC and the lifting of COVID restrictions that kept many early childhood education students away from campus, time was right to bring a group together this summer to earn while they learn. “We decided to get creative with gaining some student workers while at the same time creating a model and a pathway for people to get workforce credentials and/or degrees,” O’Neill said.

The first EWYL cohort is scheduled to graduate at the end of this month, each student earning a basic early-childhood education certificate. “We wanted them to end the summer with something tangible,” O’Neill said, adding that students can immediately enter the workforce, earn an advanced certificate by continuing for one more semester, or pursue an education transfer degree. “We’re giving them experience in a school setting, a great foundation for parenting and confidence. We’re hoping this will help them decide what they want to do with their future.”

YC’s Earn To Learn program currently is seeking applicants for a 16-week fall cohort. Like the more intensive summer session, the fall program is tuition-free and FEC work hours are paid. To learn more and to apply for one of the 10 EWYL spots, visit