Recess | Community pays tribute to local hero of early education

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PITTSFIELD — As family members work longer hours and more days in a week, the roles of early childhood education centers and high-quality, well-trained early childhood educators become all the more critical in helping communities function.

Research shows that birth to prekindergarten years are among a child's most formative, putting all the more emphasis on the need for young children to have positive, nurturing and caring adults in their first classrooms and places of care.

This past week, Berkshire County Head Start staff paid tribute to one of their most caring colleagues and classroom contributors, Billie Miraglia, 53, who passed away at home on Wednesday due to a bout with breast cancer. She worked at Head Start for more than a decade and earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood development at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts along the way.

In a Facebook dedication, Head Start members described Miraglia as "a kind sweet soul" with a wicked sense of humor and strength.

One colleague wrote, "She had the most wonderful way of helping even the most shyest child overcome and feel welcome and important and that they mattered. One of my favorite quotes will always remind me of Billie: 'Many years from now it will not matter what kind of house you lived in, how much money you had, nor what your clothes were like. But the world will be a little better because you made a difference in the life of a child.'"

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Prior to her death, friends and family members organized a GoFundMe campaign and were planning a benefit concert to help Miraglia make ends meet while keeping up with medical bills. According to the GoFundMe webpage, now a memorial campaign, "Billie was a single mom who raised 3 beautiful children and worked 2 jobs to make ends meet. She was a teacher, a baker, a sister, a daughter, and a close friend. She was a hard worker and busted her butt everyday to keep up with bills, mortgage, etc."

In 2015, according to state and federal data, the annual median salary for a Head Start teacher in Massachusetts was $28,078. While Massachusetts early childhood education advocates and policymakers have since been pushing to raise rates and benefits for early childhood educators and caregivers, a pay gap has historically persisted between early childhood workers and their K-12 counterparts. According to state data for the 2016-17 school year, the average teacher salary in Pittsfield was $71,053.

Miraglia's memorial service was held on Saturday, but a celebration of her life will be held from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Tavern at The A on Crane Avenue in Pittsfield. Tickets are $20 general admission, free for children ages 12 and under, and will include food, live music and raffles throughout the day. All the proceeds will benefit Billie's children.

Her friend, Priscilla Hopkins, said via Facebook, that guests are encouraged to wear Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter-themed attire in honor of Miraglia's favorite books.

Wrote Hopkins of the teacher, "Her love and dedication for children was over the top. There is time between sets to share special memories."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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