The Need: A great number of children start school deficient in key language, literacy, pre-math, and socioemotional skills. In Berks County, over 40% of third graders cannot read proficiently, and in Reading, the average is significantly higher. Research also shows that a higher education level for early childhood educators (ECE) is correlated with stronger outcomes for children. Educating and retaining teachers helps ensure children are successful in kindergarten
Why Now? Several years ago, United Way of Berks County initiated a program called Ready. Set. READ! with a mission to help children read proficiently by the end of third grade. Realizing kindergarten readiness is a key factor in success in school, another program called Growing Readers focuses on training the staff of inner-city child care centers, predominantly Latina-owned. Unfortunately, the early gains achieved at some centers were lost due to the high turnover of ECE staff. In response, United Way, with the help of private donors, designed a program to train and retain early childhood education providers.
The Innovation: Private funds were used to support a pilot program allowing child care teachers to obtain their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential while working. After the initial pilot program’s success, public funds from the PA State Department of Human Services were used to help with tuition costs.
How it’s Done: The CDA program consists of three, 8-week accelerated evening courses that equal 3 credits through RACC and can be used towards earning an associate degree. Upon completion of the coursework, students apply to the Council for Professional Development for their national credential (CDA). Funding from United Way is used to provide observation, modeling, and coaching support to students, as well as stipends and retention incentives to remain teaching in the child care center for up to three years.
How it’s Funded: Public funding was provided by the PA State Department of Human Services, and private funding was provided by United Way of Berks County and a family foundation. The Impact: As of early 2023, the program has sponsored eight cohorts of 10-12 students, which has led to increased staff retention at child care centers due to training and better compensation. Two child care centers have increased their Keystone Stars ratings, and one has opened a Pre-K Counts classroom.
Get Involved: The Case Studies in Caring series explores best and promising business practices created with available resources that are custom-crafted to meet local child care needs for communities and workforces. To learn how your business can join the movement to invest in caring, contact the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org and find an online toolkit for businesses to support working families and child care at Investments in Caring PA, www.investmentsincaringpa.com.