A photo of Kyra Swenson standing next to a University of California Berkley poster

Kyra Swenson

Infant/Toddler Teacher and Co-founder of Wisconsin Early Childhood Action Needed (WECAN)

I have worked in ECE for just over 12 years. I fell into the field mostly by accident, starting at a bilingual family child care center with the hopes of using my language skills while working with children. I stayed because I fell in love with the holistic, organic way we teach children: that is, child led and relationship focused.

The pandemic forced me to leave my classroom last year, but since then I have been working on increasing visibility surrounding the issues ECE faced both pre and post pandemic. Nationally, I was part of a Center for American Progress panel on child care and the pandemic, featured in a voter drive ad, and in the next few weeks I will be working with the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment to assist in their launch of the biennial National ECE Workforce Survey. Here in Wisconsin, I am a member of the State Superintendent Advisory Committee, the WECA Grassroots Advocacy Cohort, and with the help of two amazing educators, have founded WECAN, a brand-new advocacy, training, and networking organization.

I’ve learned that you should never underestimate the power of your voice and your story. There is no special skill needed to become an effective advocate, just a desire to make change. Most of the connections I have made are through reaching out to people while in the back of my head going "Why should they listen to me? I'll probably never hear from them...". We now have just over 200 members and are getting noticed by both state and national organizations. I am so proud of the reception WECAN has received, both inside and outside the field and hope that we can inspire more teachers to speak out! Our ECE teachers have so much passion and knowledge that needs to be heard.

A topic I am very passionate about is advocating for fair wages for early care educators. There has been a lot of discussion of professionalization of the field and I believe that wages need to be front and center in that discussion. Without it, there will be no incentive for higher education and no reduction in turnover, and without these there will never be an increase in quality. I am tired of seeing coworkers apply for food stamps and Wisconsin Shares, struggling to pay rent, working two jobs, or being unable to afford to send their children to the centers they work at. We are literally building children's brains, and what we do will affect them and our entire society for a lifetime. Our pay may never be commensurate to the impact of our work, but it should be enough to live on.

On a societal level, the only way to increase wages and really build a sustainable child care system that works for both families and providers is through public investment in ECE. My deepest desire is that we unite and raise our voices until we achieve the change we need and deserve. We teach children to dream big, we must do so as well!