Good News about the CDA: Michigan Program Helps Teachers Move Ahead

April 23, 2020

Published by CounciLINK on April 23, 2020


Kesley-L“Michigan struggles to get qualified early educators in the door,” says Kelsey Laird, director of T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Michigan at the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children. It’s a national problem, and her group is taking steps to remove roadblocks that deter people from entering the early childhood field. For the last five years, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Michigan has helped providers to succeed in earning the Child Development Associate® (CDA), a credential that trains teachers to give children high-quality care and education.

T.E.A.C.H. knows the value of earning a CDA, especially when the training provides nine college credits toward an early childhood associate degree. “College credits inspire providers to continue their education,” Laird says, “so we have partnered with community colleges—including Bay, Mott, Northwestern Michigan College and more—to train cohorts of family and home-based providers in a comfortable, casual setting. Most of these providers have been in the field for a while and are now looking to advance their careers. They’re nontraditional students who work full-time, aren’t always comfortable with computers and have children of their own.”

Many of these providers are intimidated by the prospect of entering a college campus, she says. “They’re also uncomfortable being in classrooms with younger, more traditional students. So, we set up classes in relaxed settings like coffee shops and restaurants.” Being with their peers encourages them to participate more in the CDA classes, as Laird has seen.

T.E.A.C.H. also smooths the way for these CDA students by providing them with laptops while they’re taking classes and granting scholarships that cover the costs of the credits and books, along with CDA application and assessment fees. Educators have to work at least 20 hours in a licensed setting to get a scholarship, so T.E.A.C.H. offers Saturday and evening classes that fit into their schedules.

Applicants can also turn to a number of online resources that explain the program and the benefits it provides, Laird adds. “We have a website that provides all kinds of information about the credential. There’s a video that explains the importance of attaining a CDA and another video that walks applicants through the online application, including how to apply for scholarship assistance with our program.” There’s also information on the T.E.A.C.H. website about a free, all-day community event that helps providers get more comfortable with the application and assessment process.

For the last few years, T.E.A.C.H. has offered several CDA Resource Days, Laird says. “These events are located around the state and are free for providers to attend. Our staff, in partnership with volunteer Professional Development Specialists, run five sessions on topics that include Developing Competency Statements and Lesson Plans, Preparing for the PD Specialist Verification Visit, Taking a Mock CDA Exam, Putting Together Your Professional Portfolio and How to Apply for the Credential with a T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship. We also provide them with Competency Standards books and a professional portfolio binder to help them get more organized.”

They also benefit from the inspiration of hearing from role models like Najwa Dahdah of Empowered Child Care Consulting, a PD Specialist who mainly works with the Arab community in Dearborn. “She started with the T.E.A.C.H. program,” Laird says. “We helped her earn her CDA, and she’s gone on to guide other educators in serving children, families and the communities where they live. She recently finished her master’s degree and now she travels around the state to train candidates for the CDA and share our message about the importance of the credential.”

It’s an important career step, according to Elizabeth Hall, one of the first candidates in the T.E.A.C.H. cohort program. After earning her CDA, she went on to get her associate degree. And she’s now a family child care provider who advocates for her field. “I consider myself immensely blessed to have been given the opportunity to participate in the cohort program,” Hall says. “It didn’t just help me receive my CDA, it helped me become a better teacher, a more effective day care provider, and it gave me the tools I needed to develop a 5-star program.”

The program helps educators succeed, agrees a Danielle Keeter, a home child care provider. “The CDA cohort was extremely beneficial to my professional journey in so many ways,” she says. “It helped nurture the passion I already had for the field by giving me a better understanding of early childhood education and why it is so important. It also connected me with like-minded professionals who have continued to be a support and resource now that we have completed the program.”

And the program has very high completion rates, as Laird explains, because it’s so committed to breaking down the barriers that hold candidates back. “We give them a lot of training and peer support, and we coach them at the end on how to apply for the credential. We track them from the time they apply for the CDA to the time they earn it, and they get a bonus if they provide us with a copy of the credential. In short, we’re with them through the entire process.”

Many of them, like Dahdah and Hall, keep enrolling in classes and go on to earn degrees that help them open their own programs or qualify as lead teachers in the state. “We make them comfortable with the idea of college, provide them with foundational knowledge, and make it as easy as possible for them to get through credentialing” Laird says. “Then we provide them with additional scholarships that cover the cost of getting an associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree.”

It all starts with the CDA, Laird explains, since “it helps them get their foot in the door” and then move ahead in the ECE field. “The CDA is an entry way onto a career pathway.” And over the past five years T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Michigan has helped over 2,600 providers earn their CDA and embark on the path to success. In addition, the cohort program has inspired a lot of colleges to offer nontraditional models for earning a CDA. That’s “good news” for Michigan, she says. And it’s good news for young learners in the state. The CDA gives educators the skills they need to help children succeed, too.

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