GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's Early Childhood Education program at the Jeff Davis campus in Gulfport is training more than 90 students right now to be the future leaders of child care in our area. The woman leading that charge, has a passion that is difficult to rival.
"It's a big responsibility. Child care is a big responsibility."
As director for the Early Childhood Education program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's Jeff Davis campus, Pamela Jones is tasked with molding tomorrow's early educators.
"I absolutely love children. And I have this - it's a drive that I have to work with students. To teach people how to work with children," explains Jones.
After lectures in their own classrooms, Jones' students walk across the hall to the Early Education Center, where they get hands-on experience with children four and under. That way when they graduate, they understand the magnitude of their role in a child's life.
"Oh my goodness, people leave their most prized possession in their care all day long," says Jones. "I want them to go out and take care of south Mississippi's children. And not just take care of Mississippi's children, I want them to educate Mississippi's children."
And student teachers at JD are learning from some of the best standards in the industry to do just that. JD's Early Childhood Education center is a four-star facility, as rated by the Quality Rating System.
Jones says in her 20 years teaching early childhood education, only recently has "The state has turned to the Quality Rating Improvement System. And with this system, it's raising the bar in childcare. And you're going to have to come up, you're going to have to come up to the level and step up the quality care out there for Mississippi's children."
But more than just books, blocks and toys, Jones realizes there's an even bigger element that goes into teaching young minds - an abundance of love.
"I always tell my students you have to have in your inner soul a tremendous love for children in order to even do this job. And if you don't have that, then you need to go find something that you really love because children depend on us."
Desiree Moak will soon graduate from Jones' program.
"I love the kids. That's my favorite part."
As a student teacher at JD's Early Childhood Education Center, Moak says the best part of training for her job, is knowing she can share that love.
"And that's why I do this, is because you know you get to make a difference in a child's life," says Moak. "And you never know what that little difference may be, but it's a difference. And that's what it's all about. It's not about anything else but making a child's life better."
MGCCC also offers early childhood education programs at its Jackson County and Perk campuses. Jones says her students are always in high demand because they have invaluable hands-on experience.
The Jeff Davis child care center is up for evaluation again in the Quality Rating System. This time, Jones says she's going for a perfect five-star rating.
The QRS is voluntary for child care centers in Mississippi, but Jones encourages all centers to participate. She admits, it's a lot of hard work.
"Don't be intimidated by that," she warns. "And if you really want your center to be the best center that it can be on the coast, then you need to go for this. You need to do this."