Jessica Hall

Jessica Hall

5/28/24, 1:16 PM
Jessica Hall

Student Spotlight

Jessica Hall

Early Childhood Education

my Realization

Jessica Hall had worked in both the corporate world and in family childcare for many years when the realization came to her: It was time to get back to school. The Commonwealth had just announced its Career Pathways grant, so her timing was excellent — but she got off to a bit of a false start.

After starting at another community college, Jessica says "I only got through one week when I decided it wasn't for me, so I dropped the class." Undeterred, she called Alicia Ginsberg, an adjunct instructor in BCC's Early Childhood Education (ECE) program, and something clicked.

"I started with the cohort at BCC three years ago, and Alicia got me hooked,"she says. An associate degree she had earned many years before allowed her to successfully transfer many credits.

"I needed some core classes, but I didn't have to retake any math, which was a huge thing for me," Jessica says. To get the support she needed, she met with ECE mentor Adam Hughes nearly every week for the first year, and then found support through associate professors Patty Kay and Barb Kotelnicki throughout most of her classes.

"They were amazing about making me comfortable about going back to school after age 40," Jessica says.

A resident of Pittsfield since 2005, Jessica grew up in rural Petersburg, New York. After graduating Berlin High School in 1999, she had her first child and took a break from school. When her son turned two, she began studying online and successfully completed an associate degree in business finance from the University of Phoenix.

Jessica spent more than a decade working at Berkshire Bank and Legacy Bank in corporate positions she loved. But when she became pregnant again, she decided to stay at home with the children. That's when an idea was formed.

"One of my best friends said, 'You should open a home daycare.' I wasn't sure, but I took a couple of kids to start," Jessica says. It turned out to be the right decision. For 12 years, she has run a successful small daycare center out of her home, currently caring for six children ages three and under.

"I loved it because it was kids. Kids are just awesome. I got to pick the families I worked with and built lasting relationships," Jessica says. In fact, the first daycare child she enrolled is in tenth grade this year, and she is still in contact with the family.

I've gotten lots of training, but I wanted something more. I wanted to continue my education. Sometimes people think in-home daycare providers are babysitters and that we don't have expertise. It didn't matter how much training I had — I didn't have a degree in early education. I wanted to feel more qualified.

Going back to school was a decision she didn't take lightly. She and her husband discussed it with their older children, explaining that it would be a major time commitment for the mother of the household.

"I told them, 'Please respect my time,' and I kept giving everyone reminders," Jessica says. "Everyone was on board, and that helped."

Aside from setting expectations for her family, Jessica had to prioritize her time for studies while still doing what she could as a mom.

"There were a lot of times I'd be sitting in the parking lot at ballet with my laptop, doing my assignments while waiting for my daughter to get done dancing. Or I'd be at my son's football practice working with my laptop on the field,"she says. "It worked. They were supportive."

It took three years for Jessica to complete her degree at BCC, something she says she couldn't have done without the support of faculty and staff.

"I loved the support from the college. I could still have my own family life,"she says. "Everything was manageable. There is a way to work the balance, and BCC made that very easy to do."

And, she says, she earned more than a degree. She acquired new perspective.

"BCC opened my eyes as to how other people, especially in daycare centers, navigated situations. It was helpful to me in a way I didn't anticipate,"she says. "I took so much away from my time at BCC. It has only made me a better childcare provider."

Jessica says she was aware she had made the "short list"for valedictorian, but when she was first asked if she would be interested in pursuing the opportunity, she said no. After all, speaking in front of a large crowd at graduation sounded intimidating.

"But then I thought about it — I've worked really hard to get to this point,"says Jessica, who eventually agreed to be considered for the honor. Still, when the news came, she was unexpectedly emotional.

"I had just gotten all my daycare babies down for a nap when the phone rang,"she says. "I didn't know I wanted it this badly, but I started crying. I was so overwhelmed. It's such a huge honor. There were lots of happy tears that day."

All of her hard work, all of the sacrifices she had made — they had all paid off.

Jessica reflects on what her experience at BCC meant to her. While she took most of her classes online, her favorite class was in person: Barb Kotelnicki's Equity and Cultural Diversity course. It was an intimate setting, with just five students.

"We were able to make so many connections, not only to each other, but to resources we didn't even know about in Berkshire County and Pittsfield," Jessica says. "That kind of class can open up such a wonderful dialogue with people. It left a huge impact on me."

For now, Jessica plans to take care of her family and her business, although she foresees transferring to MCLA for her bachelor's degree in the future.

"I'm going to focus on the kids in my program and their progress, taking all the stuff that I've learned at BCC and cultivating it into an enriching program for them,"she says. "My dream is to eventually run a small private preschool program."

No matter where life takes her, Jessica says she will always value her time at BCC.

"BCC has really taught me that no matter what, we're not done learning,"she says. "Being an early educator, I want be a lifelong learner — and I want to create lifelong learners."