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A New Apprenticeship in Philadelphia Strengthens Education for Early Learners

As Philadelphia and other major cities move to fill early childhood education centers with well-qualified teachers, there is growing concern that these efforts might threaten the jobs of those who don’t have, or can’t afford, a college degree.

District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, is working with educators at the College on the Early Childhood Education Teachers Apprenticeship program, which places day care workers on long-term career pathways leading to higher pay, and supports the campaign to provide quality Pre-K education for the City’s children.

These high-quality and accelerated career pathways are at the center of Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine, Mayor Kenney’s newly announced workforce strategy which seeks to address the deep-rooted poverty that affects so many Philadelphians.

A few years ago, Cheryl Feldman, executive director of District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund, reached out to Amy Saia, an assistant professor of early childhood education at the College and the pair began a collaboration that now connects 36 apprentices with 20 employers, including nonprofit, for-profit, union and nonunion.

“The Early Childhood Education Apprenticeship Program is a game changer,” Feldman said. “By aligning with Community College of Philadelphia’s associate degree curriculum in Early Childhood Education and combining on-the-job learning competencies and mentors, it creates an accelerated path with the goal of creating a pipeline of highly skilled, degreed teachers.”

Saia added, “We want to increase the size of the workforce and we want to support them so they earn more wages.”

The apprenticeship program allows full-time child care workers who hold a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate to earn an associate degree in Early Childhood Education (Birth to 4th Grade). During this two-year program, workers in local child care centers receive 18 college credit for prior on-the-job learning along with wage increases and mentors. The Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) supports and mentors the on-site job coaches. Successful completion results in a certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor, an associate degree and lead teacher certification for Philadelphia-area early childhood education centers.

District 1199C recruits the employers and manages the relationships among apprentices, mentors, the College, and state and city agencies. The program is financed through a mix of public and private funding sources. Employers commit to four pay raises and paying 5 percent of an apprentice’s tuition at the College (about $500 a year). The apprentices pay 5 percent of tuition. The rest of the tuition, fees, and materials costs are covered by Pennsylvania T.E.A.C.H. scholarships.

For Corinne Bale, the program has been her long-awaited opportunity to finish her degree in education. She obtained her CDA certificate and landed a job as an early childcare professional at SPIN Inc., a provider of early childhood education in Northeast Philadelphia. Bale, who has been teaching for 15 years, said she’s now on track to receive an associate degree by summer 2018.

“I’m really benefiting from the program. I’m getting the schooling toward my degree and I’m still able to work. The College is very supportive and helpful with the way they collaborate with my employer,” said Bale. “I’ve been working for so many years with the pre-toddler class and through this apprenticeship, and going to classes, I’m able to come back to my own classroom with new ideas.”

According to a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a child care worker in Pennsylvania earns an annual median salary of $19,590; the media salary for a preschool teacher is $25,970. By the time Bale completes her apprenticeship and receives her associate degree, she will see a 30 percent increase in overall wages.

For her, the program is convenient because it combines work and learning.

The College also has a transfer agreement with Drexel University which extends the career pathway and enables apprentices to earn their bachelor’s in Elementary Education (Pre-K – 4th Grade) with a certification.

“The apprenticeship program is like a ladder,” said Chae Sweet, Dean of Liberal Studies. “The more education they receive, the more the wages are increased.”