The conventional path to getting a job is nonexistent. Some people believe education should be four years in a university, while others believe a degree is obsolete or think trade school is a better route for any needed higher education.
At the age of 18 or even 16, it can be a daunting decision to make. What was once very cut and dry is now becoming fluid, though. For Corry Area School District, students in the school’s Career and Technical Education Center’s (CTEC) Early Childhood Education (ECE) classroom are able to gain enough experience to receive certification upon graduation to enter a variety of childcare jobs.
At CTEC, students are able to take a three-year Pennsylvania Department of Education-approved program of study for early childhood education. From grades 10 to 12, students get hands-on experiences with young children in a laboratory per-school setting.
Notably, an organization called Early Connections, has been designated as a sponsor for the region to oversee apprenticeships and programs to strengthen the pipeline of students to employment and potential higher education opportunities.
One of these opportunities is receiving a degree at PennWest Edinboro, which has a partnership with the CTEC.
Robin Howell, PennWest Edinboro assistant professor of early childhood education and reading, highlighted the importance of these programs.
“Now, early childhood programs are required to have their staff achieve, at the very least, a Child Development Association Degree (CDA),” Howell said. “That is a move toward more quality teaching of our children. If students in our high schools, like Corry high school, work toward the CDA and get experience in the Little Beavers classroom at the high school, or at local Early Learning programs, they will achieve the hours needed to get CDAs and are employable upon graduation from high school.”
This would allow them to work right away in nursery schools, preschools, daycare centers, private homes, elementary schools and institutions. It also provides a foundation for those who want to move onto getting their teaching certification at a university.
Early Connections was designated as a registered apprenticeship intermediary by the District 1199c Training and Upgrading Fund for ECE. Under its umbrella, District 1199c works to decrease worker shortages in education and health care by providing the training needed through apprenticeships.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Pennsylvania will need thousands of new teachers. Data shows the number of certificates for new teachers issued in the commonwealth has dropped about two-thirds over the past decade.
This is also in part due to the fact that ECE teachers don’t get paid as much as K-12 teachers. That’s why it’s important that these apprenticeships allow students more experience and skills, so they can enter at a higher-paying level.
This idea of apprenticeships for education is new, though.
In 2018, a pilot group formed with two Pennsylvania universities – PennWest Edinboro (formerly Edinboro University) and Shippensburg. They came together and were able to obtain a Professional Development Organization (PDO) grant that breaks down the barrier of costs to make higher education possible for those who have a CDA certificate.
Howell, who also holds the title of a coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Systems of High Education’s PDO, said the low pay is an issue apprenticeship programs and the PDO grant are working to address.
“Early learning programs are costly for families who bring their children for care,” Howell said. “However, our early childhood workforce is terribly underpaid. To take college courses would be almost impossible, since the current wages are barely enough to survive at home.
“The PDO grant pays tuition for these workers. They can graduate with a degree. This benefits the workplace, but most importantly, the children.”
Howell emphasized that this grant applies to Pennsylvania residents who worked in the commonwealth at least 25 hours a week in the three months prior to being eligible for the PDO grant.
There are grants that are already creating change by supporting the students in the CTEC as they prepare for graduation.
Kim Beers, who serves as the Early Connections ECE apprenticeship program coordinator for this area, said that part of her role at Early Connections is to establish connections between community partners and the schools and students in search of available funding and support.
One of the resources she found was the PASmartGrant through NWPA JobConnect which supports instruction of the students in programs like Corry’s.
Because of that, Early Connections was able to use the grant to purchase new textbooks, workbooks and supplies for the ECE classroom. They delivered the supplies to the school this week, for National Apprenticeship Week, as Tuesday was Pre-Apprenticeship and Youth Apprenticeship Day.
This comes as Early Connections announces its designation as the regional sponsor for early childhood registered pre-apprenticeships from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
Because apprenticeships in education are fairly new, there are a lot of unknowns, but these organizations are taking a lot of progressive steps.
According to the Department of Labor’s website, a pre-apprenticeship program has a documented partnership with at least one registered apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships, by definition, have established learning standards that meet state and national guidelines, and once completed, provide national credential that is recognized anywhere in the industry.
There are registered apprenticeships in the region for those post high school currently. Beers said they have more than 30 active registered apprenticeships for adults seeking CDA or higher education in the early care and education field.
They must work 25 hours or more a week in a childcare center, complete a total of 2,000 hours of on-the-job learning, complete coaching competencies and demonstrate understanding of early learning standards, all while taking courses online through PennWest Edinboro.
Early Connections is in its third year of offering that opportunity, which Beers said is thanks to District 1199C and PennWest Edinboro.
Beers said that model created by District 1199c could be transferable to other apprenticeships in education, as it has worked already for apprenticeships in health care and childcare.
With its new designation, Early Connections is able to move from the planning stage to taking action.
“We are moving from the planning to implementation stage of our partnership, helping to provide additional resources throughout the students' high school years,” Beers said. “We will focus more on the students completing the program, such as providing connections to resources so that they will be prepared to enter the childcare workforce post-graduation; and awareness of post-graduate higher education opportunities and credentials.”
CASD Superintendent Sheri Yetzer expressed her gratitude for the new resources that were delivered on Tuesday, thanking all of the people involved as they stood and flipped through the new materials.
The textbooks received are from the Council for Professional Recognition. The Council is international, and it’s the agency from which the certificate for the CDA comes. It was Howell who told Beers and Michelle Harkins, executive director at Early Connections, that the books would help students reach the certification standard and be prepared for their future.
“If students take seriously the courses, they will be fully prepared for taking the Child Development Associate test and verification visit from one of the council's PD specialists,” Howell said.
Beers seconded that, saying the resources will be able to help the classroom stay up to date and top quality.
“These updated resources will assist in supporting best practices and early learning standards to support high quality early care and education,” Beers said. “We are also providing Google tablets to transfer and show evidence of competency attainment and proof of their on-the-job learning.”