GREAT FALLS — A Montana Department of Labor program is helping Great Falls High School student Madison Hewitt get a jump start on college – as well as her career, as her love for childcare is paving the way for her future.
“I’ve always had a connection with kids and I’ve always liked working with kids,” said Madison, who graduates this weekend from GFHS.
If you spend time watching Madison, or Madi as she likes to be called, interact with kids at St. Thomas Child and Family Center, its apparent she’s on the right path.
She took early childhood development classes as a freshman. In her sophomore year, she committed to a rigorous early childhood apprenticeship program through the Department of Labor, Family Connections, and GFPS.
“I was able to get kind of my teen age dream job at a childcare center, and then do some dual credit classes just to kind of build up this credential that I’ve earned,” said Hewitt.
The timing was tough. Madison was one of several students signed up when Covid hit.
“Madi was the one student that just plugged away through the whole entire thing,” said Great Falls Public Schools Early Childhood Coordinator Janice Sagen. “She’s determined and capable and smart and as good of a person that you can find.”
Sagen says she had such confidence in Madison that when Sagen had a child during covid, she asked Madison to babysit.
That determination paid off for Madison.
“Now she’s at a place where she’s going to graduate with that CDA (Child Development Associate Credential),” said Sagen. “She has her early childhood certificate from the Department of Labor and she’s going to be a sophomore at the University of Montana.”
The dual credits through the University of Montana-Western are paid for, saving Madison, who has already qualified for scholarships, a significant amount of money.
Madison advanced so far in the program that Sagen says she’s already qualified to be a lead teacher at St. Thomas, a job that pays $40,000 a year.
Madison was able to balance her regular schoolwork and activities with the program’s requirement of 480 hours of professional experience and 120 hours of technical instruction.
Madison says the rigorous program taught her time management skills. She’s also involved in student government, is the president of the Montana National Guard Teen Council, and a part of the Great Falls High Health Occupations Students of America or HOSA team that recently placed at the state competition.
She said the program meant a lot of work on weekends and sacrificing some social activities like going to football games. She also gave up her spot on the Great Falls High Dance Team.
Madison is the second person in Great Falls to go through the program. Jason Wanner was the first, three years ago.
Sagen hopes to expand the program to CMR and Paris Gibson in the fall. She says there are other pathway programs for students to earn dual credits and recommends students discuss the options with their school counselors.
Madison has maintained honor roll status throughout her high school career and says someday she may open a childcare center with her mother. She’s also considering a career as an early childhood counselor.
For other students contemplating the program, Madison’s advice is to go all in. “Writing things down and having schedules for yourself and creating schedules for yourself is really beneficial and just giving it your all,” said Hewitt.
Madison’s high school career is ending on a high note, and her college journey off to a successful start. “It was definitely rewarding to go through this process and I really glad I did it,” said Hewitt.
To learn more about the program, click here.