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Nonprofit boosts early learning in rural Arkansas by upgrading educator qualifications

Teacher And Pupils Using Wooden Shapes In Montessori School
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Nonprofit boosts early learning in rural Arkansas by upgrading educator qualifications

The need for child care and early learning is critical, especially in rural Arkansas. One nonprofit is working to fill those gaps by giving providers a chance to get more education.

The Career Pathways Program with Save the Children partners with universities to grow the workforce of child care and preschool providers.

Joyce Taylor, Eastern Arkansas parent-family community engagement coordinator for Save the Children, had more than 20 years' experience with Head Start and said the program gave her the opportunity to pursue a bachelor's degree. It also provides her with resources she can use, in the classroom and with families.

"In particular, we have a family with a child that is autistic," Taylor noted. "Mom is working with the child at home. So I have things that I can share with that family, so she can continue to work with her child."

More than 153,000 openings for child care workers are projected over the next decade, largely driven by the need to replace those who have left the field or retired, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Taylor pointed out some children have challenging behaviors, and may have a lot of things going on at home. It is her job to help them thrive in preschool.

"Because we're the first start, when they come into Head Start, that's their first opportunity to be in a learning environment," Taylor explained. "It's up to us to do everything that we can do, to help make that first experience successful."

Karen Harrison, managing director of career in education workforce development for Save the Children, said rural areas have access to fewer resources compared to urban areas, so the program focuses on addressing the specific gaps in rural communities. She added the Pathways program aims to reduce barriers to obtaining a higher-ed credential or degree.

"All of our pathways come with incentives," Harrison emphasized. "We either pay all or partial of their tuition; we pay stipends, for books, supplies and materials. We also give 'barrier reduction' stipends. We know that child care for participants themselves can be an issue; transportation, technology needs."

Harrison added the pathway begins with a Child Development Associate credential, followed by an associate degree, and ultimately a bachelor's degree. In the process, they improve the career opportunities for workers, as well as the quality of early learning.

Danielle M. Smith is an award-winning radio journalist/personality with more than a decade of experience in broadcast media. Smith is a former audio journalist with American Urban Radio Networks and Sheridan Broadcasting Networks. She is currently joining PNS as a producer. She also hosts a weekly community affairs show “Good News” on Power 1360 WGBN AM 1360 & 98.9FM in Pittsburgh, PA. Smith sits on the Communications board for the Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti 501 ©(3). Smith recently took a leap of faith and relocated to Nashville TN.
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