A North Texas apprenticeship program is offering childcare workers a way to earn early educator credentials and higher wages while seeking to bring quality teachers to the workforce.
Recently, 19 participants graduated from the Camp Fire First Texas Early Education Apprenticeship Program, which is the first of its kind in the state.
Many Texans are familiar with Camp Fire First Texas, a nonprofit founded in 1914 to offer programs for boys and girls that include everything from camping to school readiness.
The organization’s programs focus on the two periods of greatest brain development: early childhood and early adolescence.
It “combines on-the-job learning, professional development, and one-on-one mentoring and coaching,” according to the Camp Fire First Texas website.
The two-year course, which is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, offers participants a chance to obtain various credentials, such as the childcare development associate certification necessary to advance in many early education programs.
LaCreisha Watson has been a part of the child education workforce for 20 years. Before learning about EEAP, she had no plans to further her education.
“It was just something that kind of fell in my lap,” said Watson. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it if not for a program like this.”
“Early on, we saw that there was a gap in teachers being able to make their way up and planned and coordinated alignment between education and workforce development,” said Lyn Lucas, who was one of the driving forces behind the development of the EEAP. “There were several roadblocks.”
Some of these roadblocks for potential educators were the lack of flexible programs, compensation, and transferable credits.
Barriers preventing early educators from gaining accreditation and further education have persisted for years, according to Mechell Green, who directs early childhood programs for the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth.
“People don’t have an extra $100 to get a CDA, much less to try to get an associate or a bachelor’s [degree],” said Green.
Participants in the EEAP earn stipends based on milestones, pay raises, and up to 33 college credit hours while working at a qualified EEAP host site.
Lucas said, “This program is available at no cost to the apprentices and values the experience they have and helps close the opportunity gap.”
June Robles, who graduated from the EEAP, was not planning to have a career in the early childcare sector, but once she became an assistant teacher at a Fort Worth child care facility and became an apprentice, she changed her mind.
“When I first started, I didn’t see myself going far with it,” Robles said. “Now that I’ve been doing it for a year, I don’t want to stop.”
Apprentices who complete the program become more financially stable, Lucas said, but there is more to it than that.
“This isn’t only an economical solution; it is an equity solution, it is a quality solution,” Lucas said. “And it is hopeful enough that the whole state of Texas is interested in figuring out how to expand this and scale it out.”
Watson noted that earning the credentials through the program shows parents and the world the value of her profession.
“It does show people that we’re not just glorified babysitters, just changing diapers,” said Watson. “We’re actually molding their kids because we get them from as young as six weeks on up to five years old. We set the foundation for what they’re going to do when they get in school.”