Career and technical education.
The focus and increased appreciation of early childhood education has picked up momentum over the past decade with the growing awareness by both parents and educators that the earliest years of a child's life can pave the way for his or her future educational success, in response, facilities have popped up all over the country to meet the needs of this growing industry, and that means opportunities abound for the students interested in a career in early childhood care and education.
According to the U.S. government's Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of preschool teachers and child care workers is projected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. High turnover, combined with rapid job growth, are expected to create many openings for preschool teachers and child-care workers. This is great news for the serious-minded student who has the desire to teach and interact with young children in their most formative years.
Educational institutions across the country are meeting the demand for individuals possessing the technical skills required for this growing career. The increase in programs that train the future teachers and child-care providers is evidence that this is one occupational field that will be around for a long time. Most importantly, with the focus on early childhood education on the rise, the quality of the provider is paramount. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) is one of the organizations stressing the importance of high-quality programs, and high-quality programs require certified and well-trained preschool teachers, assistants and childcare workers.
Early childhood education programs have not yet been required to meet specific state standards, as do grades from kindergarten and up, so much of the success and benefits of a program is left up to the discerning parent who investigates the providers' qualifications and weighs feedback from parents who have children in the program. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) have issued a joint position statement regarding the building of an effective, accountable system in programs for children birth through age eight (www.naeyc.org/resources/position_statements/pscape_full.asp). They take the position that "policy makers, the early childhood profession, and other stakeholders in young children's lives have a shared responsibility to construct comprehensive systems of curriculum, assessment, and program evaluation guided by sound early childhood practices, effective early learning standards and program standards, and a set of core principles and values ... "
This is a sure sign for the future of the ever-expanding field of early childhood education and the growing need for the best technically skilled people to be working in it.
Career and technical education is answering the growing need for teachers of preschool and beyond in various ways. Schools across the nation are developing programs that allow students exposure to the world of early childhood education. Some facilities have working day care centers and preschools on the premises, giving the students the opportunity to see firsthand what it means to be a teacher or assistant. This is a win-win for all involved. The preschool or day care is monitored for quality, because its success means success for the educational facility housing it. Students exchange ideas and experiences in "real life" situations. In keeping with the spirit of career and technical education's approach of hands-on learning, these schools are producing students with the very best skills.
The Success of Medina County Career Center
Medina County Joint Vocational School was named a National Promising Program in 2000 by the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education (NDCCTE). Out of 53 program applications, a panel of university-level researchers, practitioners and state-level administrators within NDCCTE worked with the staff of the Sharing and Celebrating Exemplary and Promising Programs staff in selecting Medina.
The program serves six local and city school districts and provides infant care and a full-day preschool. One of tile real strengths, as pointed out in an NDCCTE news release, includes accreditation by NAEYC and a high graduation rate for special needs students.
Medina's early childhood education program focuses on the physical, social, emotional and mental development of young children. It includes the operation of an infant room, a full-day preschool and two half-day preschool programs for children from birth to five years of age.
And what is happening today with this promising program at Medina? How much has it changed?
Denise Gerspacher has played an instrumental role in Medina's Early Childhood Education Program. She explains that as a result of receiving "Promising Practice" national distinction in 2000, tile Medina County Career Center, Early Childhood Education Program had the opportUnity to receive an "Action Research Grant" ($10,000) from the Ohio Department of Education, Office of Career-Technical and Adult Education. This grant, provided to Ohio's "Best of the Best," was designed to focus on student achievement, solve problems specific to the discipline and allow other educators to learn from Medina's success.
Gerspacher says that the grant expanded the focus of Medina's program. Medina chose to research the feasibility of incorporating a Teacher Education Academy into its program offerings. This was just the beginning.
"The research included collecting, analyzing and interpreting data with the ultimate goal of expanding opportunities for students," explains Gerspacher. "Professional development, site visits and preparation of various written materials were an integral part of the action research for data collection and sharing of information. Inclusion of the academy into the course offerings provided another avenue for students in the Medina County Vocational Education planning district who are interested in pursuing a career in education."
Gerspacher's pride in the program shines through as she continues, "The program has been documented and presented to provide statewide replication. Since its implementation, program improvements and modifications have been completed. The program is attracting additional college-bound students to career and technical education opportunities."
During the 2001-2002 school year, the Teacher Education Academy formed an advisory committee and began recruitment. With a National Board Certified teacher hired, and standards created for the program (guided by the Ohio Career Paths for the Teaching Professions, Integrated Technical and Academic Competencies), the academy was on its way. Now students had the opportunity to complete the 450-hour, one-year program exploring four different internships--early childhood, middle childhood, high school/career-technical and special education.
This remarkable development offers students the one thing that some programs lack--options. Students are presented the chance to explore all four areas and determine what venue perks their interest and passion to teach. The students create a portfolio including the Four Domains of Teaching (PRAXIS III). This portfolio is an indicator of what the students know, and what they can do.
Part of the refocusing by Medina included community service, which plays an integral part of the program. Gerspacher notes, "Partnership with the Cleveland Sight Center enabled the students to screen over 600 preschool children for amblyopia. On site, with the Career and Technical Education, Special Needs, Culinary Services Program, the Teacher Education Academy students provided support with the completion of FCCLA, Power of One. A Course of Study summarizing the first year implementation was written at the end of the first year."
This partnering with the community brings the real world and the student together. Both community and student benefit from such exchanges.
Partnering with other educational institutions was another way that Medina continued to successfully expand the program. A "Memorandum of Understanding" with Ashland University allowed students to waive their first two courses in Ashland's College of Education when they successfully completed the Teacher Education Academy with the grade of "B" or higher. Also, the University of Akron awarded two renewable $1,000 scholarships to graduates of the Teacher Education Academy program. This kind of support validates all of the efforts at Medina.
Presently, there is an agreement in the development process with Walsh University for the 2003-2004 school year (implementation targeted for the 2004-2005 school year). The seminar portion of the Teacher Education Academy program will be delivered from the Walsh University-Medina campus. This will give high school students the opportunity to learn in a postsecondary environment before becoming a fun-time college student.
Gerspacher proudly talks about the building of leadership abilities for the students. "Students experienced leadership opportunities through their youth club chapter, Ohio Future Educators of America. Teacher Education Academy students participated ill the state leadership conference by entering nine of the 11 competition categories. The chapter was bestowed the title of Honor Club. In addition, a team of two students received third place in the state for Impromptu Teaching, and an individual from the chapter received second place in the state in the category of Impromptu Speaking."
It is quite apparent that Medina's success is flourishing. With commitment and dedication to such programs by educators like Denise Gerspacher, success can be the only outcome.
"I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to be an integral part of [Medina's] Early Childhood Education Program for 21 years. Receiving a grant as a result of achieving Promistug Practice distinction gave my district financial assistance in creating new career and technical programming for college-bound students," says Gerspacher. "The Teacher Education Academy has experienced much growth since its inception. The academy provides a variety of postsecondary options for students. I hope to achieve exemplary status from the benefits that this program provides for students."
Exemplary status ... a reasonable goal for Medina!
Moving Beyond-Loganville High School
In 2001, Loganville High School's Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program was named an Exemplary Program by the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education. No wonder! In 1993, the school adopted the High Schools That Work reform model. As it states in the 2001 National Dissemination Center brochure on Loganville, they raised graduation requirements, eliminated the general track, raised expectations for quality student work, involved parents in their children's academic and career plans, upgraded the career-technical program offerings and required all students to focus on reading, math, science and conducting research. As a result, students' academic achievement levels, attendance rates, graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment rates have increased dramatically.
The outstanding practices of Loganville's ECE program as cited in the brochure are:
"In their effort to eliminate low-level career/technical courses, Loganville's leaders realized that the traditional child-care courses did not prepare students for further education at two-and four-year colleges. School leaders worked with Dr. Karen Rutter, the program instructor, to develop a challenging early-childhood program for students interested in becoming teachers. The standards for the course are linked to college and university courses."
Students are expected to read current books and magazines on educational issues and trends, and to write essays in each of the four courses in the career concentration concerning education. To complete the fourth level of the program, students assume the role of "teacher" and must teach a unit on one of these educational topics, whether it be school law, teaching techniques, curriculum issues or professionalism. Each student works with a partner to develop teaching objectives for the unit, prepare lesson plans, teach the course, develop tests for assessing student learning, grade the tests, give students feedback on their performances and listen to critiques of their teaching skills from their "students."
In the level-three course, students are expected to observe a teacher once a week to determine various teaching styles and to determine the teacher with whom they will intern for a semester. All students must work with preschool children for two semesters, observe teachers from the lower grades and write formal observations before being allowed to serve as an intern.
After the initial internship, the school's program offers the top six seniors in the ECE program the option of spending 1.5 hours each day teaching in a middle school or elementary school while being paid for their work. Additionally, students who complete all four courses with grades of 85 or higher receive college credit for the class at one of 13 colleges and universities in Georgia. All of this is quite impressive, but what is Loganville up to in 2004?
Rutter, who played an integral part in setting up the program, states it is still going strong, and is still producing future teachers. "We are in the middle of our sixth year and we have been able to track 37 students who are currently majoring in education and have full intentions of becoming a teacher. Several are in student teaching at this point; others are still in coursework in college but aggressively pursuing their dream of becoming a teacher."
Rutter goes on to say, "It is quite rewarding each year when we have our Valentine's reunion to see the spark and love for teaching that emanates from them as they tell me about their lives. They fell in love with teaching during their high school ECE experience, and that opportunity has acted as a propeller that drives them forward. They often come back to visit me and make sure that the preschool is still being run 'correctly.' In their words, it means 'taking off the COOL glasses' and doing what it takes to make sure that the children gain a love of learning while in the students' care."
To ensure that the program remains strong, several of the graduates have asked to come back and be guest speakers for the new students.
"Those students can bring tears to my eyes as I listen to them tell the new students how important the role of a teacher is," Rutter says. "I could never have realized the power of the dream when I created the program. As my students love to remind me--'Dr. Rutter, ECE isn't a class, this is a family!' I guess you could say that we have created a family of teachers."
It is quite apparent that Rutter's enthusiasm and belief in the program are contagious. "I truly believe that career education can make the difference in the lives of our high school students," she states. "These students were able to find their passion and are pursing their dream. I can tell many stories of students who took the class because they 'love children' and then changed their mind about their intended college major. My favorite is of a student who came into the class determined to be a marine biologist. After one semester, she knew that her life had been forever changed. She is now a junior in college majoring in Early Childhood Education. That story is just one of many."
The National Exemplary status that was placed on Loganville High School's Early Childhood Education program in 2001 was well deserved, as its ongoing success has proven. Rutter continues to build and nurture the program at Loganville and will be supervising the opening of another ECE program in the county's sister high school in 2005.
"I do believe strongly that career technical education can be the major player in creating educated students who wish to become teachers who are also positive role models." Rutter says. "Family and consumer sciences courses have a natural 'bridge' for students to become experts in the field of early childhood education before they leave high school, thus preparing them for jobs in which they work with children. In fact, several college professors have said that the students who graduate from the Early Childhood Education program at Loganville are, as freshmen, where most of their students are as juniors. That is quite an accomplishment for a high school student!"
And what an accomplishment for the school that 10 years ago was described as an ordinary high school with a pattern of low performance, and ranked below the state average on Georgia's high school graduation test. The upgrade of the career and technical education program at Loganville High School is a result of the commitment of faculty, staff, students and parents. It has also resulted in upgrading the qualities of the "inner" student--the passion to learn, retain and efficiently perform the skills needed to obtain a valued position in early childhood education, or in any other occupation a student may choose.
A Caring Community at East Valley Institute of Technology
East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) in Mesa, Arizona, serves students from 10 East Valley school districts. The half-day program--half at EVIT and half at the student's home high school--is developing a broad range of skills for the students in a working environment. EVIT also enjoys partnerships with local companies and employs three full-time job developers. But EVIT is not only providing a place for career and technical education; it is also fostering a program designed to build a family environment among the students.
Amy Corriveau, an EVIT Early Childhood Professions teacher and a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, believes that by creating a caring community in family and consumer sciences (FACS) classes, these future educators stand to make a great impact on the future of society.
Corriveau explains, "High school students are actually seeking out family and consumer sciences classes with a desperate personal need to find a warm, safe environment. They yearn for a place where they can learn how to help build families through the building of their own character and specific techniques."
"The FACS classroom is actually the perfect place to model a caring community," says Corriveau. "First, the curriculum is based on the basic structural framework of our society--maintaining the ideal of family. Although students have different definitions of family, they are learning the basic foundations of how to care for and be part of a family unit."
The enthusiasm that Corriveau has in the program grows as she encourages her students to work collaboratively within the classroom. "FACS teachers have a tremendous opportunity to be role models," she notes.
By having the students pair off, or work in small groups to complete assignments, a natural bonding occurs and the seeds of community are planted. The students are encouraged to ask one another for direction and help. They look out for one another. They remind one another of work they need to complete and they help one another study.
Corriveau points out, "Whether they know it or not, they are displaying examples of the caring community that they are learning about in the early childhood education curriculum."
Working collectively, teachers, staff, parents and families provide the encouragement and moral support for the students to achieve success, Corriveau explains, "Along with modeling in the current high school classroom, the students enrolled in the Early Childhood Professions class must be given direct instruction on building caring communities within their future classrooms. A solid understanding of the strong influence families have on children and a good curriculum focused on ways to strengthen the ties between families and the educational/day care facilities are essential."
Corriveau believes that future instructors must understand how to develop secure and safe environments for future classes. The development of classroom communities is a step toward that understanding.
The caring community concept taking place within the FACS and early childhood education classes at EVIT draws upon the nation's own sense of community and the need to preserve the family core. "... they need to recreate the nuclear family that has disappeared in individual family life, in their own classrooms," says Corriveau. "What a challenge! What an opportunity!"
Clearly, career and technical education has provided the opportunity, and teachers such as Gerspacher, Rutter and Corriveau are ready to guide students to meet the challenge.
For Further Exploration
National Institute for Early Education Research www.njeer.org
National Association for the Education of Young Children http://naeyc.org
National Association for Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education http://naecs.crc.uiuc.edu
Related materials and other articles can be found on ACTE Family and Consumer Sciences Division web page and the Techniques area of www.acteonline.org