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Breaking Barriers

Creating College Pathway for Latinx, Spanish-Speaking Early Learning Providers

By: Dawn Hendricks

Originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of Exchange


Our early learning educator community often does not reflect the rich and diverse tapestry of the communities it serves. The lack of teacher diversity is evident in K-12 classrooms as well as in the early learning workforce. In K-12 classrooms, 79 percent of teachers are white, non-Hispanic, 9.7 percent are Hispanic, 6.7 percent are Black and 2 percent are Asian (Schaeffer, 2020). Yet, the students are 47 percent white, non-Hispanic, 27 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Black. As we look specifically at early learning (birth-age 5), the demographics of the teacher workforce are more reflective of the children in their programs, with nearly 40 percent of early learning staff identified as a person of color (Whitebrook et al., 2018). However, early learning staff of color and those that are culturally and linguistically diverse may lack the resources and time to pursue a higher education certificate or degree.


Higher education institutions have an important role to play in recruitment of potential teachers and shaping our future educators to better reflect our nation's communities to meet goals of diversity, equity and inclusion. In Oregon, as with many states across the nation, there has been a recent push for early learning providers to begin earning college credits, not just community-based training hours, in an effort to encourage them to start their journey along a college pathway. However, for providers who do not have academic levels of verbal and written English skills, this has been a challenge. For example, the federally funded Head Start programs are simultaneously tasked with ensuring that their preschool teachers have at a minimum an associate's degree in Early Childhood Education while also requiring that teaching staff respect, reflect, and promote children's home language development. This requirement, while laudable, has often made it a challenge for Head Start programs to hire linguistically diverse teaching staff who also have the required degrees.


In 2016, a local Head Start program in Oregon reached out to our college to inquire if we could provide a course, on-site, for their Spanish-speaking staff who needed college credit hours. A full-time faculty member at the college and Spanish speaker, readily agreed and began offering a language and literacy development course in Spanish to teacher assistants on Friday mornings in the break room of the local Head Start. Soon, word spread that the college was able to offer ECE courses in Spanish, and requests started coming in from other organizations, including local Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and Community Action Organizations.


Over the next several years, interest in the Spanish language ECE courses continued to grow. When the Oregon Department of Education announced a grant opportunity, Grow Your Own Teacher Pathway, to diversify the teaching pipeline, we asked ourselves, "What if we proposed to develop our entire A.A.S. in early childhood education and family studies in Spanish? Would they fund that?" With our hopes high, but our expectations realistic, we submitted our grant proposal in Fall 2020. Much to our surprise and excitement, we were notified just a couple of months later that our proposal had been selected and fully funded. Now, came the tricky part - how to create our entire A.A.S. degree in early childhood education and family studies in Spanish in the six months allotted for curriculum development in the grant timeline!


As we conceptualized the program, we knew that we wanted to eliminate as many barriers as possible for the students to successfully complete the degree. The first barrier we focused on was the language barrier. We wanted to put all of the required courses, including general educations courses such as math and writing, into Spanish in addition to the ECE courses. Fortunately, our colleagues across the college in the other departments were very supportive of this work and began developing the needed course in Spanish. In some cases, the full-time faculty in those departments were bilingual and had the capacity to develop the Spanish-language courses while in other instances adjunct faculty were recruited and hired to assist in development.


Another barrier to address was accessibility. Most of our students are already working full-time in early learning settings, sometimes 12 hours a day, for family child care providers. In addition, they often live in remote areas that make in-person classes difficult, if not impossible to attend. To increase accessibility to all of our students, we decided to offer all of the courses online, with synchronous class meetings held via Zoom every other week. The classes met on a weekday evening or on Saturday mornings.


The third barrier to eliminate was cost. We began minimizing costs as we developed the courses. We utilized Open Education Resources, which are free, online books developed by college faculty across the nation. Some of these books were already available in Spanish and other we had to translate. For the books we translated from English into Spanish, we focused on not only translating, but ensuring the content and examples in the texts were culturally responsive and reflected the unique developmental needs and trajectories of Spanish-speaking children in the United States.


We also linked in articles, videos, and other media from reputable sources that were already available in Spanish. To ensure the content was reflective of the specific children, families and teachers in our communities, we visited and observed family child care providers and early learning centers to take photos and video vignettes to integrate into our course materials. The photos were illustrative examples of content such as materials and environments, while the video vignettes were used to highlight adult and child interactions and spark small and large group discussions.


Since the program's inception in Fall 2021, over 220 students have entered the program and are actively taking courses; the majority attend part-time, while balancing school and work. Our students are migrant and seasonal Head Start classroom staff, family child care providers, and other not-for-profit early learning staff who work with Latinx, Spanish-speaking children and families. As interest in the program grew, we knew that we had to offer more than just the coursework in Spanish; we needed to also offer wraparound students support services in Spanish. During the second phase of the grant in 2022, we focused on increasing our capacity college-wide to fully serve our Latinx students; hiring bilingual, bicultural staff in the admissions/recruitment, financial aid, advising, and peer tutoring departments, as well as a teaching and learning navigator specifically focused on serving our education and early childhood education students. With these structures in place, we have witnessed a much higher than average retention and completion rate.


Our first cohort of students graduated in June 2023, earning an A.A.S. degree in educación infantil y estudios familiares. Another cohort has completed their 1-year certificate and are poised to continue on to their A.A.S. degree. The impact of the program can be seen in the students themselves as well as in the programs in which they work and the children and families they serve. Creation of a Spanish language ECE program is enabling the Latinx, Spanish-speaking students across our state to successfully complete teacher preparation in their primary language. Because the majority of our current students are already working in the field as family child care providers and teacher assistants, the impact on children and families has been almost immediate; the providers are immediately putting into practice what they are learning and providing high quality early childhood educations programs for linguistically diverse children and families in our local area. By focusing on serving diverse current and future educators in our area and meeting them where they are, we are developing a diverse teaching workforce, reflective of the communities in which they live and work.


References

Schaeffer, K. (2020) America's public school teachers are far less racially diverse than their students. Pew Research Center, pewresearch.org


Whitebrook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L., and Edwards, B. (2018). Earnings and economic security. Early Childhood Workforce Index 2018. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment


Dawn Hendricks will be a guest on the December 12, 2023 episode of the NACCTEP Now Podcast.

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