More Than a Career, Our Future

Current reality- There are many child development centers that have empty classrooms due to the lack of early childhood teachers. And as the State is trying to get everyone back to work, the ability to fill these empty seats with children is critically important to today’s workforce. So what do we do as a community to address this?

A few years ago Steepletown aligned its program strategies to support both its preschool and those young adults who come to Steepletown to complete academic and work-readiness skills, and to access better employment opportunities. Steepletown initially worked with West Michigan Works to put together the framework for the Early Childhood Educator (ECE) apprenticeship training program. Then in the spring of 2019, after a year of meeting with employer-partners in early childhood education, the ECE apprenticeship training was formally registered with the Department of Labor with Steepletown identified as the Sponsor organization.

The first group of 8 apprentices started in the fall of 2019.  They were enrolled at GRCC for instructional coursework which is required to complete the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential.  These apprentices also began on-the-job training at a child development center/preschool for which they were paid an hourly wage. This created a pathway to becoming an early childhood educator for those who may need additional academic support and for whom financial security may be an issue.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 put a hold on the training for these 8 apprentices, but several of them eventually completed the apprenticeship earlier this year. In addition, five new apprentices began in January of this year and several more have been in the process of being enrolled into the apprenticeship this fall.

It was with this background that Steepletown applied to the Early Childhood Investment Corporation for its Child Care Innovation Fund to expand this work. On September 16th the ECIC announced that it was awarding five initial grants out of a total of 143 applicants throughout the State of Michigan.  Steepletown’s proposal for the ECE apprenticeship training, in partnership with several local employers, was one of those which has been awarded. The goal of this work over the next 15 months is to enroll at least 30 additional apprentices and to work closely with the ECIC to further develop the ECE apprenticeship program for replication throughout the state.

Joan Blough, Director of the Child Care Innovation Fund, noted that the ECE apprenticeship training program has the potential of being a game-changing strategy in the field of early childhood education. A national evaluator in early childhood education will be assessing the impact of this work over the next couple years. Steepletown is excited to be coordinating the ECE apprenticeship training to increase the number of highly qualified teachers in the classrooms.  The Child Care Innovation Fund also reflects the commitment of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation to create an early childhood system that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, and racism-free.

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Dick Bulkowski

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