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Grant Provides Opportunities in Early Childhood Education

By Amy Howell, Ph.D., Director of COCC's Early Child Education Program

Partners in Practice Early Childhood EducationIn the current climate of increased awareness of the formative years between birth and age five, the field of early learning is receiving community, state and national attention. Oregon is one of many states to receive funding to support expansion and increased quality for programs serving young children and their families. With funding follows an increase in the expectations for developmentally appropriate curriculum and programming. A critical gap in this otherwise positive trend is the lack of training and support for professional development. That is, those who are working most closely with children need opportunities to increase understanding and skills.

In the spring of 2014, COCC applied for a grant, through the Oregon Department of Education-Early Learning Division to support professional development for those working in the field of early learning. Our grant focused on increasing access, relevancy and opportunity for those working in childcare and education settings. A critical aim of our proposed work was to support the diverse community of emerging professionals striving to balance professional development, family commitments and financial responsibilities.

Prior to fall 2014, COCC was able to announce the Partners in Practice Grant (PiP) project to the community. This work includes a commitment to the following outcomes:

  1. Increase the number of regional providers in college credit classes by 25% within three years.

  2. Increase the number of Hispanic and Native American majors in Early Childhood Education (ECE) to at least 12% of the total students in ECE programs by September 2015.

  3. Increase the attractiveness and relevancy of ECE courses that meet the professional development gaps, as identified by the Oregon Registry, meet scheduling needs, and present content in classes taught in Spanish (at least two classes per academic year).

To address the project outcomes, the Partners in Practice (PiP) grant includes key components: flexible offerings, intentional outreach, course relevancy, alignment with state and regional goals, diverse opportunities for professional growth, and whole student support.

Although COCC offers an extensive course schedule, our target population, those working in the field of early learning, faced barriers to access college courses in light of owning and operating child care programs during the typical work week. As part of the PiP grant, COCC has extended course offerings to include night, weekend, and alternative schedules for classes. For instance, we are now offering three and four credit courses over several, full-day classes instead of the traditional once or twice per week offering. We find that most of our weekend intensive classes are at capacity with waitlists.

Another barrier of access includes language. Central Oregon is home to a diverse group of committed child care providers who speak Spanish as their home language. While most of these individuals are working to increase their English speaking skills, offering courses in Spanish is something COCC is exploring this year. Currently, for winter term, we are offering our Introduction to Early Childhood Education course in Spanish. Our original seat limit of 15 filled to capacity within the first week of registration. We were able to approve and open a second section, which also filled.

As the name of the project suggests, Partners in Practice is a grant program that requires the regular collaborative efforts of multiple departments within COCC and multiple partners who are external to the College. Within COCC, the PiP project involves the coordination and support of many departments including Admissions and Records, CAP Services, Instructional Dean's Office, Technology Support, Bookstore, Accounts Receivable, College Relations and Social Sciences.

External to COCC, PiP engages the expertise and resources of High Desert ESD, Jefferson County Schools, Oregon Child Development Coalition and NeighborImpact-Child Care Resources.

The PiP project recognizes the efforts of early learning professionals to increase their professional development in alignment with state and national recommendations and requirements. As we design classes for our early care and education community, we are making intentional decisions about offerings, which are based on the needs identified within the regional early learning community. The offerings, while required for degree and certificate completion, also meet requirements for statewide professional development measures. Early learning providers are able to use their college coursework and their community trainings together to increase their status as early learning professionals. As a result, college coursework is seen as part of the process, rather than a separate step, toward increased quality and care in early childhood education.

One of the most meaningful aspects, from our initial reports from PiP scholarship recipients, is the role of support. All students have access to COCC's wide range of support services. In addition, the PiP grant has funded three additional positions that offer intentional support to students bridging their early care and education business with their college coursework. We have two peer mentors, who are both child care providers and college students, who work daily with our PiP scholars to answer questions about the college culture, meeting registration requirements, attending informational meetings, accessing course materials, using online formats for communication, and meeting grant-related deadlines. We have one peer mentor working exclusively with our Spanish speaking PiP scholars.

In addition to our peer mentors, the PiP grant offers career specific support through our Connected Coach position. PiP funds allowed us to hire a well-known educator and child and family advocate in our region to work directly with our students and they make critical connections between their business and their learning. Through online discussions, site visits, and small group support, our students have the support to connect theory and practice.