When the doorway to education opens, opportunities become possible. For the young students of Capital Region ESD 113’s Sound to Harbor Early Learning Programs, that doorway opens when they attend preschool through Head Start or ECEAP (Early Childhood Education Assistance Program). However, the preschoolers aren’t the only ones who are benefiting from education. Sound to Harbor teacher assistants can receive valuable education toward their Early Childhood Education (ECE) Stackable Certificate.

Qualified teacher’s assistants employed with Sound to Harbor receive free tuition, textbooks, and student support toward getting their Initial ECE Certificate in a partnership with South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC). Formal education provides a deeper understanding of the meaningful impact that early learning educators have on children. It also gives them tools beyond their own experience to help them ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.

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The Sound to Harbor employee students love to work with children, and they recognize that a good education is valuable to both the preschoolers and themselves. Photo credit: Holly Reed

Karen Reynolds is a Sound to Harbor employee and currently enrolled as a student in the Initial ECE Certification classes. “The textbooks, discussions, and seminars give specific instruction, and we are supported in our development every step of the way,” she says. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to work and go to school at the same time, and to have our education paid for by our employer is heaven-sent!”

“For current teacher assistants, the Initial ECE Certification Program is an attractive perk that we offer,” explains Holly Porter, ECE Instructional Coach for Sound to Harbor Early Learning Programs, and college liaison for the classes.

The classes meet just one day a month, scheduled during their work hours, which provides great flexibility for Sound to Harbor employees. This flexibility is important to many members of the program who can’t participate in traditional night school classes for various reasons. “I am a single mom who works full time and always wanted to go back to school,” says Marie Cartwright. “Timewise and financially it was never an option for me until I came to ESD 113.”

ESD 113 Initial ECE Certification Study Hall
The afternoon session gives the students an opportunity to continue their classwork with faculty support in a small group setting study hall. Photo credit: Holly Porter

The flexibility of hours opens the doorway to college education, but the financial support of the program is what really unlocks the door for most participants. Two of the classes, a total of 10 credit hours, are covered by the program, including the required textbooks for the classes. The final two credits are often paid for by the Early Achievers Grant, a state funded scholarship that provides funding for tuition, books, and student support for eligible applicants pursuing education in the ECE stackable certificates.

“The ECE program is a great opportunity for people like me who cannot afford college, but still want to be able to get an education and work in the field that they love,” explains Sarah Barlow, another current Initial ECE Certificate student.

The Initial ECE Certificate consists three courses for a total of 12 credit hours. Classes begin in fall, and carry on throughout the year. Students start with one of two classes. Some students begin Introduction to Early Childhood Education, which gives a thorough overview of theories in the field of early education, and covers issues, trends, and best practices, as well as delves into ethics. Others start with the other year-long course: Health, Safety and Nutrition, which is offered in alternating years with the introduction class. The third class, Practicum: Nurturing Relationships, can be taken concurrently with one of the other two classes, and is mostly online, offering additional flexibility, and sends students to observe other classrooms, helping them see the concepts they have learned in action.

Sound To Harbor Capital Region ESD 113 Initial ECE Certification Concepts
Understanding early education concepts helps many participants of the initial ECE certification program with their daily work with preschoolers. Photo credit: Holly Reed

Many students use the initial certification as a first step into getting a degree. Some never realized that college would be the right fit for them. Others, take the classes and see the benefit in understanding the theory behind the practical applications of their everyday work. “I have been in the Head Start program for many years,” says Karen McBride, a former ECE student who completed her certification. “Taking these classes helped re-spark some joy into my teaching, and the classes taught me new things and reminded me of others.”

Most students in this program are newcomers to the college experience, but Porter notes that they are not the only ones that benefit from ECE certification. Teachers who come to the program with K-12 Teacher Certification also take the ECE courses to deepen their understanding of early childhood development and broaden their skill set with this age group.

Education opens up a whole new world for children, exposing them to new ideas and concepts. The Initial ECE Certification does that for early educational professionals.

If you would like to make education possible for preschool children while experiencing the possibility yourself, take a look at the job opportunities on the Sound to Harbor website.

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