No Stranger To Hard Work

By Courtney Rhodes, Division of Student Affairs

No stranger to hard work, Erica Ritter, who joined the Division of Student Affairs as director of the Becky Gates Children’s Center in late June, has been laser focused on what she can do to enhance programming and education to benefit the children under her care.

Erica Ritter

Erica Ritter

The Becky Gates Children’s Center provides exemplary, affordable and accessible early childhood care and education for the faculty, staff, and students affiliated with Texas A&M University’s main campus. The program is culturally responsive and racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse with families from 26 countries speaking 22 languages.

Hooked on Childcare

Ritter’s introduction to early childhood education didn’t begin in the most traditional sense, but her experience in the field made a lasting impression that has kept her working in a fulfilling career path. At age 19, Ritter walked into a childcare facility in need of a toddler caregiver.

“I fell in love with the kids,” Ritter said. “The program focused on early intervention for children from low socioeconomic situations who were blind, deaf, had ADHD, etc. It showed me that with perseverance and patience, I could make a difference on even a young group of children. I was hooked!”

Ritter’s dedication to children’s education grew as she accepted her first director’s position a few years later at a struggling, privately owned center in Lawrence, Kansas. At the same time, Ritter was raising her three children (Ethan, 18; Colin, 12; and Ella, 5) while pursuing a master’s degree in early childhood education from New Mexico State.

During her four-year tenure, Ritter was able to expand the center to accommodate over 100 children, hire professional teaching staff, achieve a high quality rating through the state, became a demonstration site for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and create lasting relationships with the children and parents at the center, many of whom she is still in contact with today.

Turning Challenge into Opportunity

All of this experience has helped foster a strong passion for early childhood education.Ritter working with a student

“I’m so excited to have this opportunity to build on the strong foundation already here, and to help Texas A&M’s Becky Gates Children’s Center become a childcare leader in Texas, which lags behind most states when it comes to early learning centers. The Texas minimum standard for most classes is one teacher for every 11 2-year-olds, but the best quality standards are a 1 to 6 ratio. I want to be on the frontier and lead the state in developing more innovative productive centers with higher standards and better professional development,” Ritter said.

The need for expansion in a creative learning environment is critical. The Becky Gate’s Children’s Center is at 100 percent capacity with 168 children (ranging in age from 12 months to 5 years) enrolled and over 200 children actively on the waiting list. Space limitations and finding passionate but qualified professional staff and space are a few challenges Ritter is facing.

It is her goal to pursue funding opportunities to expand the center so that capacity may increase to accommodate over 100 additional children.

A Learning Lab for Texas A&M Students

Hurdles aside, she is already looking to the future. “I’m constantly looking for enrichment opportunities for our children, whether that is music time, holistic play areas outside, or partnerships with our philosophy department on campus,” Ritter said. “I want to find ways to become more integrated into the university and the Division of Student Affairs to further capitalize on the amazing opportunities and to give students practical experiences in early childhood education.”

She is excited about the experiences the center can provide to early childhood and education students at Texas A&M, as well as students from other degree programs, such as nursing, health and kinesiology, or liberal arts.

Early childhood education sets the foundation for a child’s future. It helps foster engagement and exposes them to experiences that will have a lasting impact. “We really can change the lives of these children. We just have to be persistent,” Ritter said.

To support the Becky Gates Children’s Center, contact Torii Kapavik ’11, director of development for the Division of Student Affairs, at 979-845-4728 or tkapavik@txamfoundation.com

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