July 19, 2010
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab
SRU gets grant to help early childhood educators
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University has received a one-year $17,158 grant to implement a portion of the new statewide "Gate Opener Project." The project is designed to improve teacher education for those already working in Keystone Stars 1, 2, 3 or 4, the PA Pre-K Counts program or the federal Head Start Program.
Diane Wolak, fiscal assistant in SRU's Office of Cooperative Activities, secured the renewable grant, and Lee Williams, professor of elementary education and early childhood, will oversee its implementation.
"We will use fall semester to develop the online courses and begin offering our first course next spring semester," Williams said. While the course will be online, the SRU program will include technology support to help those returning to education course work, she said.
The Gate Opener Project was designed to help those already working in the early childhood education field, including specific child care programs, retain their jobs while improving their teaching skills.
"The new state guidelines, which follow the federal Head Start regulations, require those teaching in specific programs to be qualified as 'highly qualified teachers' in order to retain employment. Our program will provide the basics, including work in helping educators pass the required Praxis 1 Test," Williams said.
The initial courses at SRU will only be open to those already working in the specific programs, but in the future, the courses may open to post-baccalaureate students interested in child care careers. SRU already offers a series of online early childhood certification courses for those employed as early childhood workers and who have earned their elementary education certification, but need the early childhood component.
Williams said she expects at least 15 students to enroll in the new program which will open with a science course. A math course, a social studies course and others will follow.
"Those working in the field are really facing a 'Catch 22 situation,'" Williams said. "They have to become 'high qualified teachers' to retain their job, but they can't afford to take time off to attend college to get that qualification. We hope our online program will allow them to meet their requirements, while allowing them to keep working as they undertake the required coursework."
The Gate Opening Project is being developed as a sustainable support structure that allows working adults obtain their bachelor degree in early childhood education and child development.
"The overall program was developed in recognition of quality early education being crucial to our young children's intellectual, social and emotional development," Williams said. "Those behind the project have said that without a strategic investment in quality early learning, subsequent investments in later programs such as classroom remediation, job training and adult literacy have a low economic return," she said.
"The educational level of teachers is key to quality early learning and children's positive outcomes. The research about outcomes for children when teachers have training in early childhood content is compelling," she said.
"As the state and federal government have raised the bar for those working in education, we have had to develop programs that will allow educators to acquire the necessary skills to deliver the quality education required. This program will meet the demand," Williams said.
"We have been in contact with officials in Mercer, Butler and Lawrence counties who administer such programs so that they know the program is being created and when it will open so that they can alert their staffs and give them time to plan for the courses," Williams said.
The initiative is a joint project from the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Key and the Grable Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.