As any parent of a preschool-aged child can testify, quality childcare is not easy to come by these days.
To help bolster childcare in the region, the Dogwood Health Trust awarded A-B Tech a $500,000 grant that enables students to receive an Early Childhood Education certificate for free.
In August, the college launched the Blazing Trails Early Education Scholarship, which provided 20 students with full tuition, textbooks, and loaner laptop computers as they work to complete an Early Childhood Certificate program in as little as two semesters. A second cohort of 20 students is being launched this month.
Education Department Chair Tamara Reynolds said the grant is helping to train teachers during a time when the field is experiencing a national shortage of qualified teachers and local childcare centers are struggling to replace staff lost during Covid. According to a recent NC Chamber Foundation survey, 60% of parents with children ages 5 and younger reported having to miss work because of lack of childcare.
The current Blazing Trails student cohort ranges in age from 20 to 50 and two-thirds are currently working in the field. The 16-credit certificate program requires three classes over two semesters, including a regular Wednesday night class and hours spent outside of class completing computer modules and classroom observation. A-B Tech’s Early Childhood Education certificate can be put toward an Early Education Certification (EEC) through the state, which will qualify students to be lead teachers in licensed childcare centers. It also counts toward a 70-credit Early Childhood Education associate degree at A-B Tech.
Sharon McGraw, a recipient of the scholarship, enrolled in the program in hopes of changing careers from her current role selling health insurance policies. Having worked as a substitute teacher, she is hopeful the certificate will give her a professional boost so she can earn a living wage at a quality school. She said the grant has helped to relieve the financial pressures of attending college.
Instructor and cohort coach Beth Pokorski has enjoyed the opportunity to teach face to face for the first time since the Covid pandemic and all the support and the comradery that brings. “This first cohort is blowing me away with their dedication,” she said. “Having such an engaged group eagerly participating in this experience despite the challenges of taking classes while working, gives one hope for the future of early childhood education.”
Reynolds said the Blazing Trails Scholarship will continue for the next three years and will cover up to twenty students each year. The next cohort will be admitted in January.
Learn more at abtech.edu/education. For additional information or questions related to the scholarship application and interview process, please contact Dr. Beth Pokorski at (828) 398-7900 x 7243 or at [email protected].