This spring a new Educare child care center will open on-site at IDEA, providing 80 much-needed child care seats for families in Wards 7 and 8, 45 jobs in early childhood education, and a perfect opportunity to train IDEA students in child development.
The unique partnership began two years ago when IDEA sought a deeper partnership with Educare to support scholars enrolled in the First Step program, sponsored by OSSE, that enables high school students to work toward earning their Child Development Associate credential. CDA certification requires one year of classroom study of early childhood development as well as 480 hands-on hours working in a child care setting. Credentialed graduates are eligible to work as teaching assistants for a licensed child care provider in DC and many other states. CDA certification can also be applied toward college credits if scholars wish to pursue their associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related field. For example, Trinity University Washington grants its incoming students nine credits for their CDA credentials, and the University of DC-Community College also provides credits to those CDA credential earners who specialize in infants and toddlers.
IDEA proposed creating an on-site child care center, and in July 2019, the Office of Head Start announced grant funding available for new early childhood classrooms. Educare applied for the five-year grant in November 2019 and learned in July 2020 that the project would be funded.
“There was a little risk on both sides,” explained Educare DC Vice President of Programs Jamal Berry. “We had to start planning together before we knew if we would receive the grant.” Educare and IDEA began collaborating in February 2020. “We had to figure out how both organizations could support each other, come to an agreement about the space we would use, and talk about how to convert it into an early childhood space.”
“Starting a new venture takes a lot of work up front,” said Educare DC Director of Development Hannah Urrey. “We are planning for support staff, wraparound services, and a prenatal program, in addition to teachers and assistant teachers for 10 classrooms.”
Who Is Eligible to Apply?
The new center will serve 24 pregnant mothers in its prenatal program as well as 80 infants and toddlers, ages six weeks to three years. While the center is scheduled to open in the spring, families are already invited to apply for a spot and be placed on the waitlist.
“We want to support the families who need us the most,” said Berry. “In the application process we explain the criteria for families to enroll in the program. The majority of our slots are for Head Start-eligible families and we want to support families in Wards 7 and 8. We have a smaller number of slots available for families who pay privately or with child care subsidies.”
IDEA scholars who are parents and IDEA staff will be eligible to apply for the new center, as well as members of the larger community. The District already faced a serious child care shortage before COVID-19 devastated the child care sector, so these additional child care seats will be invaluable to DC families.
How Will the Center Support IDEA Scholars?
IDEA scholars enrolled in the child development pathway—one of four career and technical education options offered at IDEA—will have access to child development experts who will serve as teachers and mentors when scholars are engaged in the hands-on phase of their training.
“Each Educare classroom includes three teachers,” explained Berry. “A lead teacher, and assistant teacher, and an aide. We are hiring the lead and assistant teachers, and IDEA students in the CDA program will serve as the classroom aides. During their junior and senior years they will spend a lot of time in the Educare classrooms, receiving guidance and support from the lead and assistant teachers. Students will be embedded into a high-quality child care setting that will prepare them for their future careers.”
“This partnership provides a phenomenal 'down the hall' training opportunity for our scholars in the child development program of study,” said IDEA Executive Director Justin Rydstrom. “Educare is known for offering premier early childhood education and now even more of our scholars will be able to train alongside these masters of the craft.”
How Will a High School and Child Care Center Safely Co-Exist?
Safety and security are paramount for both IDEA scholars and the infants, toddlers, and staff of the new child care center. The center will have a separate entrance from the high school, including a secure reception area.
Currently because of COVID-19 guidelines, IDEA is open to only a few students, including those with disabilities that require one-on-one aides, and carpentry students completing hands-on certification requirements. The majority of IDEA scholars are engaged in virtual learning. Similarly, only 25% of children at Educare’s existing facility are attending in person, while 75% participate in virtual learning. Educare makes weekly deliveries of food, diapers, and other necessities to families whose children remain at home. As it remains unknown when early childhood centers or K-12 schools will be able to fully reopen safely, Educare is planning for a variety of scenarios when the center opens. “If necessary, we will open the center at IDEA with that same model of 25% in-person and 75% virtual, and then we would ensure a smooth transition to 100% on-site learning whenever that is possible,” Berry said.
Meanwhile, construction is well underway to transform standard high school classrooms into colorful and age-appropriate early childhood spaces to benefit the entire IDEA community.