Boot Camp Helps Child Care Workers Obtain Certification

Without the certification, the workers would be without a job and preschool children would be without classrooms.

In January 2023, Hampton Roads Head Start Director Shikee Franklin found herself with 20 child care workers who needed a child development associate certificate.

Without the certification, the workers would be without a job and preschool children would be without classrooms.

Head Start provides preschool services to low-income families, including children who are in foster care or experiencing homelessness. The Hampton Roads program is the largest in the state, with nearly 1,000 children, and ensures that they are socially and academically ready for kindergarten.

Franklin did not have time to wait.

Franklin talked to the staff at Bryant & Stratton College about what it could offer to help the employees obtain the certificate, called a CDA. At the time, students enrolled in the college’s early education program earned the certification as part of their associate's degree requirements.

“We figured we could tailor a program to expedite and provide an opening for course instructors to facilitate a CDA,” said Jeff Thorud, Director of Hampton Roads Colleges for Bryant & Stratton.

That led to the creation of a four-month boot camp designed to allow child care workers to pursue the certification in a fraction of the time and remain employed. The boot camp also allowed Head Start to hire about five people who enrolled to pursue the certificate as a condition of employment. Additionally, the certificate puts childcare workers on the path from teacher assistant to teacher and toward an increased salary.

The program is supported by grants from the Hampton Roads Workforce Council and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Classes include instruction on child development, early learning, social-emotional learning, physical cognitive language, and “learning about colleagues in times past who have paved the way for where we are now,” said student Darlene West.

West has worked in child care for more than 35 years. She said the boot camp has allowed her to tackle work that previously seemed overwhelming because of the time required to complete the certificate.

“If we are having a hard time, we can say, ‘I’m struggling in this area,’ and the instructors help me to maneuver past that area and feel confident,” she said. “I’m 65. To have to go back and study and learn and have teachers that are patient and understanding and still push you… they take your weakness and say ‘Let’s build on that. How do we get you to overcome, knowing that you still have this weakness, but you’re going to grow.’”

Student Tara Crosby said she likes the hands-on setting and teachers who are there to help.

“I owe myself getting this CDA,” Crosby said. “I’ve been in field for 35 years. I really need that paper stating that yes, Tara knows how to cater to children and to parents. I have the knowledge.”

Shikira Barrett has worked in child care for a couple years and with Head Start since January. She appreciated the expanded career options obtaining her CDA would give her. “You can see there’s so much under this umbrella in the education realm,” she said. “I can move forward with teaching or observations with the CDA. And the pay is a little higher when you go up to an associate’s degree.”

Jim Squires, one of the donors who supported the grant, said he values the donor-advised fund he holds with the Foundation that makes such important community work possible.

“It resonated with us because of our support of other child-welfare related issues,” Squires said. Over the years, he said, “we have funded initiatives of our own that we know, and we have also used it for a source of funding for efforts that Hampton Roads Community Foundation is passionate about.”

The grants covered the cost of enrollment in the boot camp, as well as the workers’ exam fee.

Thorud said Bryant & Stratton treasures the new partnership with Hampton Roads Community Action Program, the parent organization of Head Start. HRCAP CEO Edith White said the opportunity allowed them to improve teacher retention and recruitment.

“Our Head Start classrooms are the innovation laboratories for building a strong educational foundation for the workforce of the future,” she said. “The CDA Bootcamp is part of the pipeline to meet current and emerging needs for a high-quality workforce.”

That means the children enrolled in Head Start will stay in class and on track toward kindergarten readiness.

“Thank you to the Hampton Roads Community Foundation for stepping in,” Franklin said. “Otherwise, the story may have been different.”

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