Before the students in Michelle Marbury’s Child Development Associate (CDA) class leave for Thanksgiving break, they discussed how they might send little ones off for the holiday, if they were working in a preschool or Infant and toddler early learning setting. “We talked about how they might need to be sensitive in what they say, knowing not every kid is with their parents for Thanksgiving, or that every family celebrates Thanksgiving,” explained Ms. Marbury. Especially working and living in a diverse community, early childhood educators shouldn’t make assumptions about family composition or cultural traditions. Ms. Marbury herself, who is Afro Latina and from Panama, learned about Thanksgiving traditions when she was growing up only because her mother worked with the US military in the Panama Canal Zone.
Discussions like these are one small part of a broad curriculum that students follow as they participate in 120 hours of classroom training and 480 hours of hands-on experience working with young children. Last summer, through the Summer Youth Employment Program, IDEA placed CDA scholars at Educare DC, a local child development center that enrolls children from ages 6 weeks to five years old. Scholars worked for six, seven, or eight weeks and were observed throughout the summer by Ms. Marbury and OSSE’s Professional Development Coordinator Nigel Henley, who oversees the First Step CDA program. Students may also put in extra hours on-site during winter or spring break.
“I love children, especially infants,” said senior Kaiya Watkins, who had spent time babysitting for her cousins before she enrolled in the CDA program. “When I got placed in the day care, I realized you really have to learn patience. You have to figure out what the babies want.” Kaiya is considering early childhood education or social work as career options.
Senior Deja Wilson especially enjoys working with three- to five-year-olds because, “they can communicate and tell me what they want, instead of just crying. I can just be a kid with them,” she said. Through the CDA coursework, Deja has learned how to better respond to and manage behaviors. “Some kids get mad over really small stuff, but I talk to them in a calm voice, pull them to the side, and tell them what they can do next time,” she explained. Deja hopes to become a teaching assistant.
The class meets once a week during advisory period at IDEA and Saturday mornings. This is the second year the two-year-program has been offered at IDEA; the first cohort of students will graduate with their credential in May. By the time they graduate, students have learned about many facets of early childhood development, including general health practices, understanding and managing behavior, and cognitive development, as well as aspects of working in early childhood education, including creating a safe and age-appropriate learning environment, program management, and professionalism. To earn their CDA credential, students must create a professional portfolio comprised of more than 50 necessary resources for working in an early childhood setting, such as menus, CPR/first aid certificates and appropriate procedures, developmentally appropriate learning activities, mandated reporting guidelines, and more.
Ms. Marbury brings to IDEA 25 years of early childhood education experience as a teacher and center director, as well as many years of teaching child development to teenagers and adults. “I have a passion for mentoring and coaching teenagers,” she said. “I like their enthusiasm. And I see their passion when they’re at the center working with children. They are totally different, and totally focused on the kids.”
The CDA program does more than simply train students to work in child care settings, however. Junior Alexis Hunter is enrolled in the course because she aspires to be a psychologist, social worker, and foster mother. “I want to know how kids think,” she said.
Sophomore Alejandra Carrio plans to become a pediatrician. “I’ve learned kids have many different emotions. When you’re working with kids you have to know how to handle things when they’re having a hard time.”
Senior Taiwon Faulks decided to take the childhood development class to prepare for parenthood. “I wanted to learn what to teach my children one day in the future,” he said. “One thing I learned is that you’re supposed to read to children even when they don’t seem like they’re listening, they’re still absorbing the words.” Taiwon enjoyed building relationships with the children he worked with at Educare DC. “I made them feel comfortable so they could come to me and tell me if something was bothering them.”
To learn more about the Child Development Associate credential from OSSE, visit https://osse.dc.gov/publication/first-step-overview