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NOVA Roundtable With Students, Faculty and HHS Representatives on Importance of Skilled Childcare Workers During Career and Technical Education Month

NOVA Roundtable With Students, Faculty and HHS Representatives on Importance of Skilled Childcare Workers During Career and Technical Education Month

NOVA recently hosted a roundtable of students and faculty along with federal representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Katie Hamm, deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Martine Sadarangani Gordon, senior advisor for the administration for children and families (a division of HHS) and two education fellows visited NOVA to learn about educational pathway development for early childhood educators. NOVA has been a trailblazer in creating pathways leading from community college to four-year schools and into the job market.

Early childhood education encompasses children ages zero to eight in part-day, full-school-day and full-work-day settings. The early childhood workforce is diverse; many early educators speak languages other than English, most are women and most work for minimum wage. In Virginia, NOVA and the Virginia Community College System streamline credits to provide a pathway to a four-year teaching degree. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure those who work in childcare and care for our most treasured little ones are paid equitably. 

Christine Schull, head of NOVA-Alexandria’s child development program and this year’s SCHEV Outstanding Faculty awardee, had direct connections to the federal officials and led the conversation. To her, advocating for better, more equitable pathways from community college to four-year institutions has become second nature. According to Schull, these early childhood educators are critical to keeping the economy together. Without them, parents do not feel confident leaving their children and choose to remain home instead of entering the workforce.

Alongside Barbara Hopkins, NOVA’s AVP of academic affairs, Schull explained the meaning and value of stackable pathways available at NOVA and other VCCS schools that allow students to stack credentials, from a 16-credit certificate, to a 31-credit certificate, to an AAS degree. The stackable credential’s multiple entrance and stopping points allow participants to jump on and off the pathway as their life circumstances dictate. Participants can enter the workforce with the AAS, and it also transfers seamlessly and without credit loss to a four-year baccalaureate degree with teacher licensure. The stackability, from certificate to AAS to bachelor’s degree, also aligns perfectly with the NAEYC professional development track. Many students have transferred from NOVA into four-year institutions, with opportunities for early childhood scholarships and resources, through programs such as G3, a federally funded grant program that provides funding for degrees serving a critical public need. 

Following Schull’s remarks, a very passionate group of NOVA students discussed their experiences along the way and the obstacles they met before they even arrived at the starting line. All represent the full diversity of NOVA and of today’s childcare workers. Student remarks were kicked off by Nicole Lazarte, a NOVA alumna and now board member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Lazarte continually advocates for childcare providers on a regional and national level. She also currently works at the ACCA Childcare Development Center and attends George Mason University. 

Roundtable participant Dianithzy Zuniga is a full-time student. Many other NOVA students work full-time jobs while earning their degrees—students like panelists Sesar Garcia, a lunch/recess attendant at Arlington Public Schools, or Shirin Firouzi, who works at Reston Children’s Center. 

Some students who shared their stories were career switchers for whom teaching was always a dream. They each expressed their excitement to finally be able to pursue their goal of being a teacher. Others are in an educational setting, but their growth potential is capped because they do not hold the necessary degree.  Bhanumathi Venkataraman currently works at Country House in Clifton, Va.; Rebecca Washington works at Family Child Care in Woodbridge and Fatima Ezzahra El Barbori Reggio works for the Emilia program at the Jewish Community Center in Fairfax. Osnaider Acosta-Munera – an international exchange participant from Colombia participating in the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program came to the United States to follow his dream of an American education, and he plans to implement what he has learned in his own community. 

All of these students represent a growing population that wants to (and will) make a difference in the lives of children. In the course of each of their careers, they will touch thousands of little lives, and their pathway to their dream of teaching started at NOVA.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest public institution of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls nearly 80,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield (Medical Education Campus) and Woodbridge, through NOVA Online and high school dual enrollment. We offer more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs to help our students reach their academic and professional goals through university transfers and access to the most in-demand careers. At NOVA, we strive to ensure that every student succeeds, every program achieves and every community prospers. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, visit our website, www.nvcc.eduor call 703.323.3000.