Teach the Little Children
Early Development, Care and Education degree program offers unique opportunities.

Article Access Magazine, Spring 2008 Issue
Patricia Heflin with students

After teaching all day at LaVerne Stewart Head Start in South Sacramento, Patricia Heflin heads back to school herself. Heflin is one of many preschool teachers, administrators and daycare providers enrolled in the Sacramento County cohort of the Child Development: Early Development, Care and Education (EDCE) degree completion program.

The program specifically targets early care and education providers whose demanding work schedules and rural locations often prohibit their pursuit of a traditional four-year degree.

“The program’s flexibility has helped me since I work full-time and the classes for my degree are usually offered during the day,” Heflin said. “The cohort offered courses I need at a time when I can take them. I can still make sure I can go home and meet the needs of my family and then go over to class.”

The EDCE degree completion program is the product of a long-time collaboration among the university’s College of Education, College of Continuing Education (CCE) and local child-care and education organizations.

Child development professor, Dr. Karen Horobin, helped establish the program. Her passion project led to a partnership with SETA Head Start in Sacramento County and ultimately a vision for the need to educate early childhood care and education providers.

“If these teachers don’t get a degree or at least improve their qualifications, they may find themselves if not without a job, then at least very far behind on the career ladder,” she explained.

Flexible Learning

To increase accessibility, each cohort selects its own meeting schedule and location. “When a group of people go through the program together, they support each other,” says Jill Matsueda, academic programs director. “Learning communities help with success and retention.”

Students view pre-recorded streaming video lectures taught by College of Education instructors in live classrooms. In the cohort classrooms, CCE cohort instructors then facilitate the lectures and lead students in discussions and activities similar to those used on campus.

“We do offer all of these courses on the main campus, but there are thousands of people who can’t get there because of where they live or the hours they work,” explained Matsueda. “With the flexibility that CCE offers, we can provide near-universal access to the same quality of education for people in remote and rural areas who might never have the opportunity to attend a traditional four-year program on campus.”

Preparing the Workforce

The EDCE program emerged at a time when California faced both a significant shortage of early care and education providers and changing expectations about the quality of those providers.

“A 2005 statewide workforce study by the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network and the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment examined whether or not California will have enough professionals in the child development arena in the upcoming years. It basically showed a shortage now and a more significant shortage later on if we don’t get out there and get teachers into the early childhood workforce,” explained Denise Lee, manager of grantee program operations for SETA Head Start.

A Question of Quality

“We have challenges meeting the staffing because of inadequately trained teachers,” says Edward Condon, statewide executive director of the California Head Start Association. “Yes, the labor shortage for early childhood education genuinely exists, but this issue of quality is really the next frontier.”

New federal law requires all Head Start classroom teachers to have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. “I suspect that we will meet that target but only if we successfully engage a variety of programs like EDCE,” said Condon.

Balancing Theory and Practice

“In this program, we designed courses with a much stronger focus on how to move between theory and practice,” said Horobin.

This balance of theory and practice appeals to Mickey Eichenhofer, a child development resource teacher for the Comprehensive Approaches to Raising Educational Standards (C.A.R.E.S.) program with the Placer County Office of Education, because it offers a hands-on approach at a higher level. “The students relate to what they already do in the field,” she said. “There is a connection between the degree and their jobs. It’s like continuing your cycle from the day into your class. That makes it real to the students.”

Everybody Wins

For the teachers, earning a degree leads to increased self-confidence, lower levels of burnout, stronger marketability, and upward mobility. “The benefit for us is a brighter, more educated staff for our field of teaching,” said Lee. “It puts our staff members in a better position to market themselves for higher, or at least competitive, wages.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Access Magazine. It has been edited for length and clarity. Article written by Allison Shaw.