BRATTLEBORO — With a shortage of early childhood educators, a program revived at the Windham Regional Career Center is being looked at as part of the solution.
Nancy Wiese, who joined the career center last year and became director this year, said the early childhood program closed about two years ago. Going into this year, she attended a regional advisory meeting where there was talk about the need for more childcare options.
Wiese called it a no-brainer to bring the early childhood program back.
"I said, 'Let's get this up and rolling,' she said.
Two courses were offered each semester this year. Next year, the hope is to add two more courses to each semester or every other and end up with at least four direct early childhood education courses for the year.
Other courses, such as nutrition or movement through a performing arts program, can help students going into the field. A professional English course is seen as advantageous for writing resumes and newsletters for early childhood centers.
Through the early childhood education program, students can earn free college credits for state colleges or universities.
"We have seen a huge level of interest," Wiese said, anticipating that both classes would be full for courses being offered next fall. "I'm really excited about that. I think it bodes well for our community."
Emmalee Waite, 20, of Brattleboro started taking earning college credits as a junior in high school. She said she ended up completing four college courses and getting 12 credits when she graduated from the career center in 2017.
"I think it was really helpful," she said, as she learned about the college experience and expectations.
Waite graduated from Community College of Vermont last summer with an associate's degree. Now, she is working towards earning a bachelor's degree in early education.
Horizon Early Learning Center in Brattleboro is her place of employment.
"I really like it," she said, having started there on a volunteer basis twice a week.
Recalling interest in such work beginning in her own childhood, Waite said she would try to teach her siblings things instead of just sitting around and doing nothing. She finds her job meaningful.
"This is such an important time for these children," she said. "I just felt this desire to be part of that."
A lot of conflicts can come up between the children and they need to be taught about resolving those, Waite said, noting that educators also have to teach a lot of emotional and social skills.
She acknowledged that wages in the field can be low. Wiese looks at the free credits as a way to help reduce the amount of debt students take on.
Chloe Learey, executive director of Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development, said her organization would "hire someone in a heartbeat" if they had college credits and then support them in continuing their education.
Learey called an increasing number of standards a challenge for a low-paying field. She worries that may keep potential educators away.
Someone who has completed a three-credit college class can work in the field. Those without college credits must complete a 45-hour training called "Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education" within the first 12 months of employment.
Learey sees the coronavirus pandemic showing how essential childcare is; childcare providers are listed as essential persons. She also believes that having more providers would bring more businesses here because there is currently a lack of options.
More than 70 percent of Vermonters under the age of 6 are in need of some form of child care because their parents are working, according to a 2018 report by Let's Grow Kids. Learey said she does not think much has changed since the report was issued.
About 535 infants and 285 toddlers were likely to need child care in Windham County, the report states. About 83 percent of infants likely to need care in the county do not have access to high-quality programs with 4- or 5-star designations and 73 percent of infants likely to need care in the county do not have access to any regulated programs, according to the report.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.