In 2011, Betsy Wayt (formerly Betsy Thompson) was among the first high school students in the country to earn a Child Development Associate® (CDA) credential™ through a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program while completing her high school diploma at Columbus East High School. Now, six years later, she’s working in an Early Head Start program with Human Services, Inc. in Columbus, IN and feeling grateful for how the CDA prepared her to work not just with young children, but also with their parents.
“Working with families has been a huge part of Head Start and Early Head Start,” Wayt says. “We have so many resources we can connect people to.”
Wayt always enjoyed spending time with children, but the opportunity to earn her CDA in high school provided her the means to make early education a career. “It really helped me decide that this is what I wanted to do,” she says.
Following high school, Wayt attended Ball State University in Muncie, IN but transferred to Ivy Tech Community College where she earned an associate degree in Early Childhood Education in 2013. She earned dual credit for the ECE courses she took in 11th and 12th grade, allowing her to already have at least 12 credit hours toward her college degree—another significant advantage for students earning their CDA in high school. Because of all of her experience, she also needed only one more semester of student teaching in college instead of two.
While she initially worked with preschoolers after earning her associate degree, Wayt completed a practicum in infant and toddler care and knew that was where she wanted to begin her professional career in early childhood education.
“The infants and toddlers are definitely more of my niche,” she says. “There is a smaller group, so you can do more with them, and they are just so much fun! You walk in the door and you’ve got the kids running up to you.”
Wayt’s experience in and dedication to the profession at such a young age demonstrates the benefit of allowing students to earn their CDA as part of a high school CTE program. Not only does the credential give students a career path and prepare them for postsecondary education, it further strengthens the quality of the early education workforce within that community.
In 2011, the Council began allowing high school juniors and seniors enrolled in a CTE program to earn their CDA credential. This removed the requirement that candidates had to be at least 18 and already have their high school diploma to earn the CDA. As a result, there has been significant growth in both enrollment and the number of CTE programs offered in state high school systems across the country that work with the Council to make CDA programs available to students.
In Utah, for example, the entire early childhood CTE pathway designated by the Utah State Board of Education, supports the CDA, explains Mary Matthews, part of the family and consumer sciences faculty at Lone Peak High School in Highland, UT. Instructional time in the classroom counts as professional development toward the required 120 hours of coursework and time spent working in a preschool or child-care classroom counts toward the 480 hours of training for CDA candidates.
“I think the CDA is a great opportunity for students to start their career path. Whether they continue in early childhood education or not, there are professional traits learned as they work to complete a portfolio and track their training and work hours,” Matthews says. “In addition, to have a professional certificate at the completion of high school is an amazing accomplishment and one that can bless students financially.”
Lone Peak High, in the Alpine School District, isn’t the only school offering this opportunity. Forty-one school districts and seven charter schools offer this early-childhood education career pathway of courses, according to Pearl Hart, the Family and Consumer Sciences Education specialist for the Utah State Board of Education.
Across the country in Florida, students at Ferguson High School in Miami talk about how the CDA program is preparing them to become teachers and even how they turn babysitting jobs into learning opportunities for young children.
“I knew I wanted to work with children, and I knew I wanted to pursue a career with early childhood education,” says Massiel Cabrera, a senior who began the CDA program while she was a freshman. In the future, she thinks she might go into social work. “We’re very prepared for the outside world.”
Diana Collingwood, an instructor supervisor in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ CTE department, adds that with a CDA, the students will be qualified to work in university child development centers as they continue their education. High school graduates with a CDA are also more competitive in the job market than those who don’t have a professional credential. And even if they don’t go into the early childhood education field, they have demonstrated that they have the perseverance to work hard and reach a goal.
Also in the South, high school CDA programs are expanding as part of a collaboration between the Council, the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (ADECE) and the Alabama Department of Education’s CTE division. To help CDA candidates in high school earn practical experience, the ADECE is identifying licensed child care centers where they can work toward the required 480 hours. Officials are also identifying more CDA Professional Development Specialists, who will observe the candidate’s work as part of the credentialing process.
For Wayt, now 25, earning a CDA while completing high school was an “eye-opening” experience and showed her that working in the early education field is a lot more than spending time with children. As part of Early Head Start, she conducts home visits throughout the year and refers families to other services as needed. “There’s a lot of paperwork and behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t think about.”
She also values her role in helping Head Start parents and uses her training on a daily basis to improve the well-being of children and families outside of the classroom. Parents tell Wayt their water or electricity has been turned off, for example, and she points them to the right resources for assistance. “We help families get different things that they might need,” she says.
Wayt’s experience of graduating from high school with a CDA and completing an early childhood education degree program at a community college, now represents a very typical career path many CTE/CDA students are taking. It also demonstrates why earning a CDA credential is the “best first step” into the field.
Since 2012, about 1,500 CDA credentials have been awarded to high school students, a number that is rapidly increasing as the Council’s strategic alliance team continues to work closely with high schools, policymakers and key stakeholders throughout the U.S. and with the Department of Labor to expand the CTE program to meet high demand and create jobs.
The Council’s preliminary studies of these aspiring young professionals validates the effectiveness of the CTE/CDA strategy in recruiting highly motivated and talented young people to the early childhood education profession. Most of these CDA credential holders, like Wayt, graduate high school and enter employment or higher education with a focus on young children.
It’s exciting to see such success and potential growth in a program that serves so many young children, families and communities throughout the country.