Alexandria, VA – A career in early childhood education offers many opportunities for advancement in the field and the immense job satisfaction that comes from influencing the lives of young children and getting them off to a strong start.
However, recent years have been extremely challenging for the early childhood workforce. Alexandria’s need for an equitable and accessible early care and education system was paramount.
As the collective voice and resource for early childhood care and education in Alexandra, Kids’ First Years (KFY) and its partner organizations are committed to implementing a systems-building approach to build and support the early childhood workforce and elevate the quality of the educators responsible for teaching the city’s youngest learners.
Focus on quality and consistency
Because quality early learning is a key driver for school readiness, KFY established a Quality Committee chaired by Glenn Hopkins, CEO of Hopkins House, a community-based learning center. The committee includes representatives from George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), and early childhood education providers.
The KFY Quality Committee aims to raise the bar on the skills and qualifications of early childhood educators, ensure they have access to the tools for quality improvement, and develop an education and credentials-based career pathway to sustain and grow the workforce.
“Education is a life continuum that starts at birth,” said Hopkins. He noted that children in high-quality early learning programs are better prepared to succeed in kindergarten and elementary school.
Hopkins and the KFY Quality Committee believe that creating a hub of quality will favorably impact the salaries that these educators can command. “We see a huge difference in the social development of children who have teachers with a comprehensive understanding of child development,” Hopkins said.
Derek Vanover, Director of Curriculum & Training at Hopkins House and a member of the KFY Quality Committee, added that a recent survey of childcare providers in Northern Virginia revealed concerns about the lack of quality in the early childhood education workforce. “We have brought together many experts to address this issue,” he said. “Improving the quality of adult/child interactions in childcare settings is a driving force of what we do.”
Another KFY collaborative initiative representing a collective effort to align the area’s early childhood educators is the Professional Learning Council, chaired by Jane Richardson, the coordinator of Citywide Early Childhood Programs for ACPS.
The council designed a robust three-year plan to strengthen the quality of educator/child interactions. This year, directors of publicly funded early childhood programs read and discussed a book about powerful interactions and trained their teachers. Next year, Year 2 will feature a deeper dive into interactions and a crosswalk with the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation tool.
A dedicated effort has also been made for all publicly funded early childhood programs to adopt a common, shared curriculum, The Creative Curriculum. This citywide coordination ensures that educators receive aligned training and that children in any of these programs can change schools/centers and stay on track with the same curriculum.”
“In previous years, schools and childcare centers had a more siloed approach to professional development. Every entity designed its own professional learning for educators,” said Richardson. “With the council’s creation, we now have shared professional learning resulting in greater continuity and consistency in our early childhood programs.”
Building the Early Childhood Education Workforce
Workforce development for prospective early childhood educators is essential, and help is available.
Northern Virginia Community College offers the G3 Scholarship so Virginians with a low or moderate income can pursue jobs in high-demand fields, one of which is early childhood education. More details can be found at nvcc.edu/g3.
The City of Alexandria took proactive measures to help local childcare providers struggling to find qualified staff when centers started reopening. “Early childhood education was viewed as a high-risk profession because teachers worked in close contact with other individuals during a worldwide pandemic,” said Juliette Milushev, Team Leader for several children’s services programs with the City’s Department of Community and Human Services.
Milushev partnered with the Center for Economic Opportunity, KFY, and other Alexandria stakeholders to form the Early Childhood Education Workforce Development Collaborative, which created a video to promote a career in this field (youtu.be/kFjlgzlhy_0).
They also planned Job Fairs to connect applicants with Alexandria childcare providers who were hiring, and the open positions started to fill. “We wanted to expand opportunities for the early childhood education workforce and create jobs and career pathways,” said Milushev.
KFY Executive Director Michelle Smith Howard concluded, “By coordinating the citywide systems that support early childhood educators, we can use our resources collectively, including funding, which allows our programs to be sustained and have a much greater impact.”
“Recognizing the early childhood workforce in Virginia has never been more important. Early childhood educators have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic to care for and educate our little learners, helping put them on track for success while enabling their parents and guardians to work. The state is committed to continuing to develop innovative ways to recognize and reward their extraordinary efforts.”
—Jenna Conway, Deputy Superintendent in the Division of Early Childhood Care and Education for the Virginia Department of Education
“I acquired my Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education at Northern Virginia Community College. I am currently a student at George Mason University pursuing my Bachelor/Accelerated Master’s degree in Early Childhood and Educational Psychology. I have been teaching young children for eight years. It has been a fun journey learning about how children develop from infancy to kindergarten prep. Working in Hopkins House Preschool Academy for five years has greatly impacted my career journey. I gained lots of experience working there, starting from Classroom Aide to now a Master Teacher.”
—Note from an early childhood educator who benefited from pathways created by collective partnerships.