Parents encouraged to share ideas in upcoming early childhood education summit

By Lora Painter | December 22, 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WWMT) — Kalamazoo is one of only five communities in the state to receive a special award aimed at improving early childhood education and improving career pathways in underserved neighborhoods.

“Early childhood education, access to quality childcare is important for every community every neighborhood especially the Edison Neighborhood. We’re trying to expand access so we have more places where early childhood education can take place to support our families and residents in our neighborhoods,” Michael Evans, the executive director of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council said.

In the Fall of 2021, the Edison Early Childhood Education Career Pathway received a $300,000 Child Care Innovation Award from the Early Childhood Investment Corporation (ECIC).

Organizers said the award was achieved through a broad community collaboration to support the creation of full-time childcare jobs with living wages in the Edison neighborhood.

The funds were to be used to launch Phase 2 of the program and increase efforts in developing a sustainable career path addressing the growing need for qualified early learning professionals in the Edison community of Kalamazoo.

“With Edison, what we’re really trying to do is to look at our neighborhood as a learning neighborhood– so that all along the spectrum of learning, whether you’re at the beginning as a little scholar or as a lifelong learner there are options to learn right in our neighborhood,” Evans said.

The partnership has been moving to its next phases in December, including planning of a summit focusing on attaining input from local parents, and learning their priorities and concerns regarding early childhood education.

Evans said organizers want to hear from parents “to have a better conversation with our community about what our needs are.” He said he would like parents to consider and share their thoughts on “what does that look like when we make those improvements.” and what characteristics/background do parents want for early learning professionals.

Project leaders have also been looking for more qualified staff members to work with students and families.

“This is one of the most important aspects of developing learning is to have someone who can work with the little scholars at the early stages to make sure they have a great start into their educational career pathway. It’s also important to provide support for the families that need quality childcare so they can go to work, and continue the other aspects of their lives,” Evans said.

This partnership, led by the Kalamazoo Literacy Council (KLC), Southwest Child Care Resources, and YWCA Kalamazoo, will expand child care availability and access through entrepreneurial support to community members who wish to obtain credentials in early childhood learning and development.

Localized support provided to those entering the career pathway ensures that each individual’s unique educational needs are met, improving their chances for academic and professional success. This intensive, individualized, and localized support will improve program implementation, and ultimately, outcomes for children and families.

The Edison Early Childhood Education Career Pathway’s successful pilot phase began in January 2021 and ended in June of 2021.

According to the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, the Phase 2 expansion began November 18, 2021 and will prioritize child care innovation by:

  • ● Aligning current services, in order to remove the burden of navigating complicated systems for those interested in obtaining credentials.
  • ● Increasing neighborhood representation of qualified individuals.
  • ● Creating space for interested neighborhood entrepreneurs to explore their potential as licensed child care providers.

This collaborative effort sets a strong precedent for the sustainability of local workforces. It will help address the employment and employability gaps in the Edison neighborhood, especially qualified staffing gaps in child care programs. Investing in those who know their neighborhoods and communities best not only increases access to employment opportunities, but also establishes exemplary talent development and retention.

“The career pathway program allows some of us to get an education and training without having to go to college,” Jesse Carver, an Early Learning Professional, said.

Early childhood development professionals have also said their jobs can be personally and emotionally fulfilling.

“Being here means a lot to me because shaping a young mind and giving them the tools they need to succeed starts early. We give them love, attention, and affection. When you see that they’re absorbing it., you know that you’re doing the right thing,” Donna Craig, an Early Learning Professional, said. “Through this career pathway, we’re keeping each other lifted. We can all be there for them together.”

“I love helping the kids develop instead of just watching them. I love being able to help them learn in their own special way,” Jazmine Carpenter, an Early Learning Professional, said. “We all helped build the program from the ground up and it’s really inspiring to be here.”

Evans said there are exciting expansions in their efforts, including to some existing sites in the Edison neighborhood. At El Concilio, the money from the Early Childhood Investment Corporation grant would bring on the capability of hiring another early learning professional.

“This is great. They’re a very strong partner and anchored in the Edison Neighborhood and community. This is going to give them the opportunity to expand,” Evans said.

Evans said another expansion is The Little Scholars Child Development Center at Goodwill Industries, which is part of the partnership between with Literacy Council and Goodwill. At the facility, there would be two rooms, and a professional would be there to expand capacity, as well as childcare for adult learners studying for GED or ESL.

“They don’t have to worry about where their Little Scholars are now,” Evans said. “If you have adults who are wanting to be able to continue their learning, one of the biggest barriers is having access to child care for when you want to take your classes. So, we have a very high interest in removing that barrier to childcare. But also if you as an individual who wants to improve your credentials– if you don’t have a GED yet, or you’re still working on your English language skills, we wanted to create a pathway that included those non-traditional employees into that pathway as well.”

The need for all this type of programming and expansion, Evans said, is “chronic.” He said there aren’t enough early childhood learning professionals to provide the service, nor are there enough homebased or community sites to host the services; not enough access for the people who need it.

“The success that we’re seeing so far is very promising. We were complete overwhelmed and surprised that over 100 people expressed interest in getting involved in someway in this career pathway,” Evans said while talking about the YWCA Dreamery in Edison.

April Goodwin, executive director of Southwest Child Care Resources, said, “We’ll help you get your childhood development credential, your apprenticeship, associate’s degree, and one day we’ll help you get to your bachelor’s. At Southwest Child Care Resources, we will help participants get to their apprenticeship, just like a journeyman, but in early childhood education. This is a national apprenticeship certificate that can be used anywhere. We even have a partnership with Kellogg Community College for apprenticeship credits toward an associate’s degree.”

“I believe in investing in the future and the future is our children. I know that I’m teaching the next president, doctor, or lawyer. I started this journey with the KLC and now I’m here. I’m doing this for my son. It’s nice to be able to say to yourself ‘you’re on the right path’,” Lawanda White, an Early Learning Professional, said.

“The program helps us improve our own child care skills. Through this program, the YWCA has created a family environment,” Candice Hadley, Early Learning Professional, said.

“The program aligns with Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo’s goals of increasing access to good jobs, promoting strong and economically sound families, and promoting the healthy growth and development of children. Being in Edison, it also aligns with our place-based initiatives strategy. Children don’t grow up in programs, they grow up in families and neighborhoods,” Kevin Ford, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo Coordinator, of the Community Planning & Economic Development Dept. in the City of Kalamazoo, said.

The Edison Early Childhood Education Career Pathway is a partnership between YWCA Kalamazoo, Southwest Child Care Resources, Kalamazoo Literacy Council, Goodwill Industries of Southwest Michigan, The Kalamazoo Promise, Western Michigan University, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative-Kalamazoo, Van Buren ISD, Michigan Works! Southwest, El Concilio, and Change Agent Consulting, LLC.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a partnership with Southwest Michigan First’s “First & 42” digital news platform. Additional stories can be found on News Channel 3’s First & 42 web page.

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