Hear from a CYC AmeriCorps alumni who is now working at her service site!
Proactive, not reactive: meeting this moment of uncertainty in early childhood education
When Sebastien first met Ezekiel,* he didn’t quite know where to start with helping Ezekiel become more comfortable in his PreK classroom and prepare for kindergarten. As a Colorado Early Learning Corps tutor, Sebastien was placed in Ezekiel’s classroom in Jeffco to support the entire classroom of students, many of whom are in a formal classroom for the first time. Ezekiel was quiet and shy, so Sebastien dedicated his efforts to gently drawing Ezekiel out of his shell with one-on-one attention and patience.
“Over the past three months, I’ve been able to help Ezekiel find ample amounts of comfort within our classroom,” said Sebastien. “His confidence to communicate with us and his peers has led to us learning that he can sound out letters in a word to figure out how to say them all together, add, and recognize large numbers such as 300.”
“With the extra attention I had to give, it took no time for me to start the process of connecting with Ezekiel and really figuring out how to help him feel comfortable in his learning environment.”
We find ourselves at an interesting turning point when it comes to early childhood education in Colorado. The state’s recent passage of universal preschool for all Colorado young people is set to take effect next year, amidst a teacher shortage that has been particularly severe among early childhood educators. How can we use our preexisting resources to contribute to high-quality early childhood education in Colorado while inspiring individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds to consider early childhood education as a viable career path? In other words, how can we meet the moment?
The scientific proof of importance of early childhood education is staggering: 80 percent of a child’s brain development happens before age three, and 90 percent happens before age five.1 At the same time, “early childhood education” has become something of a buzzword phrase in the past few years, and it’s easy to see why. Across the country, there are kindergartners and first-grade students who had never been in a traditional classroom prior to this year. As the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress results show,2 virtual learning in 2020 and 2021 as well as other pandemic-related circumstances led to unprecedented national decline in both math and reading among older students. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the ineffectiveness of virtual learning is highest among the youngest learners.3 Anecdotal evidence suggests that a higher number of parents than ever before chose to opt out of enrolling their children in preschool or kindergarten during “the pandemic years.” While much of a child’s vital early learning takes place in interactions outside of school, with family, friends, and neighbors, formal early childhood education does provide some unique benefits. In particular, formal ECE settings help students prepare for the routine environment of a classroom as well as frequent, up-close interaction with peers at a similar learning level.
Enter: Colorado Early Learning Corps
CYC launched Early Learning Corps in the 2020-2021 school year, at what was clearly a moment of great need for Colorado’s youngest learners. Early Learning Corps embeds trained AmeriCorps tutors in PreK classrooms to serve students both on a class-wide level and in small groups. Tutors implement talk-, reading-, writing-, singing-, and play-based interventions in order to help students develop early literacy and numeracy skills.
Early Learning Corps is an evidence-based program meant to provide those unique benefits of a high-quality formal early education experience. The program is designed to appeal to different students’ strengths in order to increase their confidence in group settings. If you were a fly on the wall on a typical day in a typical PreK classroom, you’d witness a very busy day: craft activities, snacks, lunch, outside play, handwashing, storytime, making friends, understanding feelings, managing conflict—these are all on a day’s agenda for an early childhood professional. The strength of Early Learning Corps is in adding another trained, professional adult into the mix; this adult can support all these efforts while also dedicating time to children that are perhaps more quiet or uncertain and can really use that one-on-one adult time. As of the writing of this blog, CYC is serving 303 PreK students in five different school districts. Early Learning Corps supports students to enter kindergarten ready to learn.
The other side of the desk
There is a final piece of the puzzle that we hope Early Learning Corps helps to address: the increasingly dire shortage of early education professionals in the Colorado job pipeline. Chalkbeat’s Colorado bureau reported in April, “The need for new preschool and child care teachers in Colorado is formidable. State officials estimate that more than 2,000 people—10% of the workforce—left the field during the last two years.”4
AmeriCorps service in Early Learning Corps with CYC offers prospective educators real, hands-on experience and a host of benefits without the expense and commitment of a permanent career change. Last school year, 79% of our AmeriCorps members expressed an interest in a career in education; meanwhile, multiple school districts we have spoken to expressed interest in recruiting individuals already in schools to pursue teaching licensure, including paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and AmeriCorps members.5
Sebastien was inspired to serve with Early Learning Corps while searching for a job in the nonprofit sector. “I’m laying the foundations for my career in Social Work, so finding a space that I could grow in while helping others grow tenfold was perfect,” they said.
“Serving in Early Learning Corps gives AmeriCorps members the chance to lesson plan, gather and analyze academic data, and build close relationships with one class of students throughout the school year,” explained Carolyn Black, CYC’s Early Learning Corps Coaching Specialist. “The lead teacher in the classroom acts as a mentor and guide, and the AmeriCorps member jumps in to provide literacy and math throughout the typical daily schedule for a Pre-K classroom as well as a targeted intervention time which they plan and implement independently. It is a great way to get firsthand experience of working with a diverse population of students in a traditional school environment.”
“I’m laying the foundations for my career in Social Work, so finding a space that I could grow in while helping others grow tenfold was perfect.”Sebastien, Colorado Reading Corps member
The ultimate goal of our work at CYC is to address barriers for students of all ages that may stand in the way of their learning and growth. Access to high quality early childhood education is a barrier for too many families, and CYC is proud to be part of this complex puzzle, to set students up for success and bright futures.
We’d love your thoughts and questions on this topic! Reach out to us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*name changed for student privacy