- Published: June 29, 2016
- Written by Kara Christenson
“Alga, you always had your work prepared to bring to class and you took your academic responsibilities very seriously,” says Yolanda Buenafe, early childhood education instructor in Mt. Hood Community College’s Assistant Teacher Career Pathway program. “Your questions were very focused on what you wanted to accomplish.”
Alganesh Weldeindrias smiles as she listens to her teacher’s praise. Today is her graduation day, and she has earned a certificate from Mt. Hood Community College qualifying her to apply to the Oregon Registry for her Child Development Associate, or CDA. Not only has she completed her certificate program, but Weldeindrias had perfect attendance, attending the program four nights per week for ten months, and earned a 4.0 grade point average. She is now qualified to be an assistant preschool teacher in Oregon.
Weldeindrias says she loves working with children and is thrilled to make a career of it. “They’re funny and they’re innocent,” she says. “And they make me feel good.”
The Mt. Hood Community College Assistant Teacher Career Pathway program has operated for two years, with funding from Oregon’s child care division, to support people working with young children move up in their careers.
The program is a very successful example of how Oregon can diversify and professionalize its early childhood workforce. The state can build up existing human capital in communities by connecting people who work with young children to resources and educational opportunities.
Students like Weldeindrias and her fellow graduates are an example to Oregon of what can result when the state supports a true pathway to educational achievement in the field of early learning. As the state implements high-quality preschool programs like Preschool Promise, it would do well to increase investments in similar Career Pathway programs around the state. Research shows that high-quality teachers are both well-educated and representative of the students they teach. The Career Pathway program and others like it are sound state investments because they result in high-quality teachers.
“We give students the opportunity to take college early childhood education classes to earn a certificate that’s part of an early childhood education degree,” says Angelique Kauffman-Rodriguez, Career Pathway Specialist.
The program also helps students gather hours in the classroom, prepare their portfolios and study for an exam. Successful completion of these elements, in addition to being observed in the classroom, qualifies the students for their CDA. Graduating students who wish to continue their education, like Weldeindrias, are already halfway to an Associate’s degree.
“We’re developing a next-level program to help students earn their Associate’s degree because of demand from successful students over the past two years,” says Kauffman-Rodriguez.
In addition to early childhood education courses, the Career Pathway program provides support around college-level learning skills, including writing and studying. Because of the state’s funding, the students also receive scholarships covering the full cost of tuition, textbooks and exam fees. These supports are critical to the program’s success, and this year 11 students completed the program.
Weldeindrias is thrilled with what she’s learned. “We learn how to guide the children,” she says. “Social emotional, physical, cognitive, how to support the kids.”
She says that her most useful lesson has been the importance of understanding children’s feelings. “We have to understand their actions, why they do what they do. We have to listen and be at their level.”
This is a lesson that Weldeindrias has even put to use at home, with her own three sons.
“I used to use a lot of time out for my kids, but it’s not helpful,” she says. But now when they fight or act out, she has a conversation with them about what is really bothering them. “If they have a problem, we solve the problem.”
Roni Pham, professional development specialist at the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division, spoke at the graduation ceremony to share this vision. “I’m really glad that the Early Learning Division had an opportunity to provide funding for this,” she said to the graduates. “You did exactly what we knew you would do. This is what we said this program was capable of producing.”
After the graduation ceremony, Weldeindrias posed for photos with her classmates, her family and with Earl Boyles Elementary preschool teacher Katie Wiegel, whose classroom she has volunteered in for the past two years.
“I like Earl Boyles,” Weldeindrias says. “It’s where my kids are. I would love to work there!” She has applied for an open assistant teacher role for the fall.