Do You Know DALE? A Certificate's Story

DALE - student with preschooler

Early Childhood Educators first to complete brand-new COCC program

By the age of five, most children are making meaningful life connections. They're deciphering words, forging friendships and inquiring (rather incessantly it might seem!) about the busy world around them. It's a time of pronounced discovery and exploration, when learning is suddenly in heightened form.

Education—and educators—at this stage can have a crucial influence on their development. That's where a new wave of Central Oregon Community College (COCC) graduates, the DALE grads, come in.

The Developmentally Appropriate Learning Environments (DALE) certificate, part of the college's Early Childhood Education program, is a 21-credit accomplishment for students pursuing or continuing careers in early learning environments. Some expand their professional development to include an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Early Childhood Education, and some go even further.

This June, 36 students of this first-ever graduating class were celebrated with a dinner ceremony—and it was equally a celebration of the budding program's collaborative success.

This is a brand-new certificate offering for COCC, which grew from an Oregon state grant in 2014. The Oregon Department of Education-Early Learning Division awarded COCC a $150,000 grant in August of that year to help support and back the network of early learning professionals in Central Oregon. Since then, additional grants from the Early Learning Division and the Oregon Center for Career Development at Portland State University, as well as support from the Early Learning Hub of Central Oregon, have helped shape and move the program forward.

The initial grant led to the creation of Partners in Practice, a COCC program that connects the college with community partners, such as NeighborImpact's Child Care Resources, to reach out to potential students and make the classes feel relevant and attainable to them, with an eye on boosting enrollment, growing skills and elevating success rates.

Program design reflects that. DALE classes are scheduled strategically—including on weekends and through online options—for individuals juggling jobs and families. And the curriculum is framed around what is pertinent and specific to regional needs and educational requirements. The classes themselves are delivered with added reach, held at the college's four campuses, as well as in Warm Springs; a number of them are offered in Spanish. And students are assisted in navigating the waypoints of higher education, which includes connecting them with plentiful scholarship opportunities—incredibly, in the first six months, more than 100 were awarded.

"This has been a success on a number of levels," shares Amy Howell, program director for COCC's Early Childhood Education. She cites the integration of state and community involvement as key, adding that the work required an extensive partnership between COCC and NeighborImpact's Child Care Resources. "Without constant communication and shared goals," she explains, "we would not be here. Both were open to new ideas and creative ways to approach challenges."

Making it all come to life are the teachers and students themselves. Explains Stephanie Boni, lead instructor, "This program followed somewhat of a cohort model, allowing the students to serve as support and encouragement for each other. We truly have become a family."

Lisa Mathis ran her own in-home childcare center for 23 years and decided to take her education to the next level, beginning with DALE. "The college and instructors have scheduled the classes so that all of us still working in the field, in one form or another, can do both," she says. "This has been a dream come true for all of us." Mathis is currently working on her bachelor's degree in Human Development and Family Sciences at OSU-Cascades.

"We knew we would have a number of students completing this as part of an associate's degree," adds Howell, "but we didn't anticipate this much interest and excitement geared specifically toward the DALE certificate."

Howell points out that this is the first COCC certificate ever offered in a language other than English. "It speaks volumes to the college's commitment to our students and our statewide goals for equity, and quality care and education for all learners." Boni says, "Offering content classes in Spanish was essential to the success of this program, as the language of instruction was seen as a huge barrier that kept these students from pursuing college classes in the past. We offered the bridge into the college experience, while also increasing their knowledge base in early childhood theory."

This bridge helped Diana Gaona find the access she needed to succeed. "With this new certificate, I am a qualified assistant teacher," she explains. "I have moved up from aid to assistant teacher." While applying her newfound knowledge in the workplace, she plans on going after an AAS degree.

DALE graduates are set to make a lasting impact on Central Oregon, enriching the lives of regional children and their families. And with all the entities and collaborations involved, and all the creativity and planning that went into the program, it all comes down to this: the smiling, wide-eyed interactions of happily engaged children.


Written by Mark R. Johnson, COCC College Relations. For more information, contact Program Director Amy Howell at 541-383-7784 or ahowell@cocc.edu.

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