These Op-Ed Commentaries were published by the Charleston Gazette on the date at the beginning of the commentary.
April 23, 2007
ONCE a year, formal time is given in April to thank professionals who care for and educate the youngest children in West Virginia. The event, the Week of the Young Child, is April 22 to 28. The annual celebration is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the world's largest early childhood education association.
I have personal reasons - three to be exact - for taking time to thank the professional caregivers for the work they do. The three reasons are simple - Megan, Marcus and Max - my children. Since my children have been old enough to sit up, I have had them in child care.
As I watched my daughter, then 18 months old, walk into the classroom for the first time, I knew I wasn't going to be able to leave her. She immediately gave me a wave goodbye, but I was the one having separation issues. The tears shed were my own. I didn't want to leave, but I also knew that I had to work. What was I going to do? I decided to fill out an application and began working full time at the center where my daughter attended. My daughter is now 18 years old and will soon be graduating from high school. Could I have taken another job making more money? Sure, but I would have missed out on being near my children. The payoff to me was simple.
Eighteen years ago, I thought it would be an easy job - play with children and clean up after them. Although I had a degree in early childhood education, I was in for a rude awakening. It took me time to fully grasp and understand the enormity and importance of providing quality care. It was "day care" after all. We were there to care for the children, not educate them. That job was left to the school system. Once I understood that it was up to me, I hungered for more information, more training and more education. I began to appreciate that child care was not a baby sitting job, but a career full of professionals who understood the importance of nurturing, providing a secure base and allowing children their autonomy.
People used to ask me what I did for a living. I would proudly say, "I am a child-care provider." They'd smile and say, "How fun! It must be easy to be a baby sitter."
I would then list everything I taught "my children" that day: problem solving, cooperation, science, math, creativity and self-help skills. I would tell them about the continuing education we child-care providers are expected to complete. I would tell them about training opportunities, such as the Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist program and the ongoing trainings through local child-care resource and referral agencies.
Most of all, I would share with them the effect I had on a child's developing brain. I wasn't going to be the caregiver that allowed a child's brain not to be stimulated, not to have those neurons and synapses firing on all cylinders, not to make the child ready to learn.
"It is my personal mission," I would say, "to make sure that each child I come in contact with is the best person he or she can be at that moment in time."
"Besides," I would say, "if you can't buy in to the important groundwork child-care professionals do, look to the research. For $1 spent on quality early care and education, $7 is saved in juvenile detention programs." If you can't buy in to developing a child's brain, perhaps you can understand the financial ramifications of poor-quality early care and education experiences for children. Baby sitter? I think not.
My children have had wonderful child-care providers that have helped shape and nurture them. I have been fortunate to understand early care and education from both sides - as a provider and as a parent. Neither is easy, but because of the providers that came into the lives of my family, I became a better parent and, I hope, they became better child-care providers.
That is why I ask you to take the time to thank a child-care provider. The time spent in quality care today will reap benefits for years to come. But please don't call them baby sitters anymore. Call them child-care professionals.
Ertl is a training supervisor at Connect Child Care Resource and Referral, an instructor for the Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist program.
August 22, 2007
The Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist Program is a training program for professionals working with children from birth to 8 years old. The program is based on a professional partnership between early care and education providers and their employers.
Several colleges and universities throughout the state have agreements so that apprentices who complete the program may enroll in qualified degree programs and receive credit for the courses they took during the apprenticeship.
Just like apprenticeships for plumbers and carpenters, ACDS is a teaching program where students learn by doing. An apprentice must be a high school graduate or possess a GED and work at least 20 hours a week in early care and education. The curriculum is based on a blend of classroom work and on-the-job training, which provides professional growth. This course is two years with four semesters, where students attend class for 15 weeks each semester, one evening each week and complete 3,200 to 4,000 hours of on-the-job training. Once they have completed these hours, participants receive their Department of Labor certificate.
Apprentices gain practical experience in child observation, classroom management, family partnership, staff communication, child advocacy, community involvement, physical development, first aid, health and safety, diversity and ethics, social and emotional development, behavior guidance, language development and cognitive development.
The program began in West Virginia in 1989 and has since been adopted in more than 30 states across the country. Today, the registered West Virginia Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist is a statewide project. The program has received national recognition and is expanding nationwide as a model for child care providers.
Primarily funded through the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the program is offered to qualified students at the amazing bargain rate of $70 for the entire four semesters!
Wouldn’t it be great if all people working in the early care and education field had a minimum of this education? Ask your child care center or preschool if its staff have the ACDS certificate or are enrolled in the program.
A new apprenticeship class will be offered at the Connect Child Care Resource and Referral office, 200 Upper Kanawha Valley Way in Chelyan beginning Aug. 30. Orientation will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday. There will be another orientation at Putnam Career & Technical Center at 5 p.m. Aug. 27.
Barrett is an apprenticeship specialist at River Valley Child Development Services. Anyone with questions can call (866) 982-2237 or (304) 523-0433, ext. 404. ACDS Web site is wvacds.org.
January 02, 2008
Imagine if you will, a child development center where parents can take their children at any time of the day or night (because all jobs do not exist between 8 and 4 or 9 to 5). This child development center is state of the art, with plenty of space to play, learn, eat and interact.
This child development center is safe and clean. A flexible, play-based curriculum that incorporates math, music, art, physical education and languages in addition to English (including sign language) is used. There is a sick room and clinic so that when a child has a minor illness, a parent does not have to miss work. Children receive healthy, nutritious meals that encourage lifelong healthy eating habits.
The staff is well trained. At a minimum, they all have Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist certificates. The director has a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in child development. Staff make regular home visits to each family providing age-appropriate materials enhancing all areas of child development.
Materials regarding child health and safety topics are provided as well, and the focus is kept on the individual child in the privacy of the family home.
As a youngster, I didn’t have preschool, paid child care or in-home family education. My mother and father were married and both worked outside of the home. Until the age of 10, I had two sets of grandparents plus a great-grandmother, all living in my town, who could care for me when my parents could not. Two teen-age neighbors could come over if my parents went out in the evening. I assume they earned the standard baby-sitting fee for our small town during that time period.
Perhaps those around my age and older feel that there is just too much of a fuss made over this appeal for such structure or services for young children. After all, we made it OK, right?
Well, some of us did. Some of us didn’t. Illiteracy, generational poverty and an increased need for prisons could be a good argument for more attention toward what our children actually need at a young age.
We now know a lot more about early brain development than we knew 20 years ago. So, back to the pie-in-the-sky vision of the ideal child development center. What does it cost to have such a child development center for all children in West Virginia? Who should pay for it and what are they, or we, or you, willing to pay? Should it be the family alone? Should it be the government paying for only those of low income or for everyone, a little, or a lot?
What does it cost not to have the state-of-the-art facility and programming? Do we want “just anyone” watching our children to provide a minimum of safety and enrichment? Do we want to acknowledge years of brain studies and economic studies that show that high-quality child care and early education results in numerous long-term benefits to everyone?
A study conducted in 2005 by the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research concluded, “early child development programs are a major tool to be used in economic development for a state or region. The payoff for investing in ECD is probably higher than for any other economic development expenditure.”
Currently, our tax dollars subsidize child care for those who meet income guidelines. Those who provide child care and accept a state subsidy may receive $6 to $35 a day, depending on the age of the child, rate type, type of care and additional factors, such as documented special needs and nontraditional hours.
Most child-care facilities want to provide child care to all children, but the reality is that they need families who can pay privately to balance out the families who rely on the subsidy. It is safe to assume that those child-care workers with at least an apprenticeship certificate have high standards of care based upon what they learned about child development in their coursework. In order to recruit and retain these workers with education and high standards of care, we as a society need to pay them for the important work that they do.
The Kanawha Early Childhood Committee of the Regional Family Resource Network made an effort in 2007 to raise the awareness of the professionalism of those working in early child care and education through two previous commentaries like this one. The West Virginia Kids Count Fund is in the midst of working toward raising the quality of the early child development system. I hope that their efforts, as well as others, will be fruitful and that one day the dream of the imaginary child development center will be available to all parents who work outside of their home.
Baranaskas is executive director of the Regional Family Resource Network, Inc. of Boone, Kanawha and Putnam counties.