Early Childhood Education: Colorado’s Whole Family, Whole Person, Whole Community Approach – Rocky Mountain PBS | Team Cansler

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Hunter Mendoza wakes up around 7:30 a.m. most days and works as an assistant until 4:30 p.m. Then he does his homework and attends lectures – both mostly online Western Community College (WCC). Mendoza is earning an associate’s degree in early childhood development.

According to Mendoza, the program allows students to complete both practical, hands-on and theoretical training. Students take management courses, observe how different centers approach childcare, and study the different ways young children think and learn. All the essential parts for building an early childhood education workforce in Colorado.

Sometimes, Mendoza told Rocky Mountain PBS, there’s a misconception that early childhood educators (such as those who work in daycares) don’t play a critical role in supporting a child’s development.

“It’s designed as glorified babysitting,” Mendoza said. “It’s just 100% not the case. These are super important years in their lives and they are exploring and figuring out how the world works.”

He added that people interested in becoming an early childhood educator sometimes face barriers to entry, such as the financial cost required to become a certified educator.

“I know that one of the barriers for me that I kind of had to personally overcome was the fact that I was a male from my early childhood [education]’ Mendoza said. “It’s not very popular.”

“There’s a commonality there. They both take care of the child. They care about how they handle their successes,” Mendoza said. Photo courtesy of Mendoza.

Mendoza said his boss supported him by assuring parents he was properly certified and doing a good job.

“But I think what also really helped handle this whole situation was building relationships and making sure to talk to those parents every day,” he said.

Mendoza said part of his philosophy is that early childhood educators should encourage children to explore the world and embrace their own creativity, rather than telling children how to think. He added that parents and educators should work together to support the child.

“There’s a commonality there. They both take care of the child. They care about how they handle their successes.”

according to dr Lisa Roy, Managing Director of Colorado’s Department of Early Childhoodthe department’s partnerships with community colleges, universities, school districts, residential programs and center-based programs will be critical to the holistic support of the early childhood workforce.

“We are developing a full pipeline of opportunities, particularly for students of color who might not normally be able to get into the system because they can’t afford to be in the system or to study,” Roy said.

Roy added that individuals who work in early childhood communities and home centers are valuable to the early childhood workforce.

“Those students who choose to enter education and school bring with them this rich experience of understanding child development, family and community engagement,” said Roy.

Mary Alice Cohen, the deputy executive director of the same State Department, said when the department traveled to Colorado to hear early childhood educators, many directors expressed frustration at not being able to help all of the children in their communities who needed care .

“They were understaffed and closed rooms or in some cases entire centers because they were understaffed,” Cohen said.

[Related: ‘The workforce behind the workforce’: Confronting Colorado’s critical child care staffing shortage]

Corresponding chalk strokeState officials estimate that more than 2,000 people (or 10% of the early childhood education workforce) have left the field in the past two years.

To support current and future early childhood educators, Cohen said the department has been working on it various initiatives and grants by providing scholarships, access to wellness and mental health programs, apprenticeships and training opportunities. The state has also created a program that funds two introductory courses in early childhood education.

“It’s very comfortable for you to be out in the real world, out in the classrooms, but also getting this education and also in the college classroom,” Pope said. Photo courtesy of Pope.

Sarah Pope, another student enrolled in the WCC Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development program, has worked as a preschool assistant and later as a preschool teacher in early childhood education for about eight years.

“I’m seeing the state really starting to support early childhood students, so I think that’s really cool,” Pope said. “It would have been cool to see more of that in my early days, but I’m really encouraged to see it happening now.”

Pope said she loves working with children as they learn and seeing that moment when they finally grasp a concept. She works at a local school three days a week and attends classes two other days a week.

“We have a lot of evening classes that our program offers because there are also some non-traditional students who go through this program,” Pope said. “It’s very comfortable for you to be out in the real world, out in the classrooms, but also getting this education and also in the college classroom.”

Cohen described the state’s work in supporting children and early childhood educators with a whole-family, whole-person, and whole-community approach.

“I think we need to keep working to break down the stigma attached to becoming an early childhood education professional. There are heroes in our community. They support children at the most critical stage of their development,” said Cohen.


Theresa Ho is the digital content producer of RMPBS Kids. You can reach them at theresaho@rmpbs.org

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