‘Coaching’ called key for early education nurturers

Providers of early education and out-of-school care in Dorchester have various needs for training. Will StrongStart, a new statewide professional training system offer solutions?

The new system, developed by the state Department of Early Education and Care and UMass Boston’s Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation with a three-year, $12.4 million grant, aims to revamp the professional development and quality improvement systems for statewide early education and out-of-school time workforce. There are more than 9,000 licensed programs and about 70,000 people working in family child care in the state.

For the 231 licensed child care providers in Dorchester, the new system means opportunities for leadership and business training in its metro Boston professional development center (PDC), one of five PDCs in Massachusetts administered by the UMass Boston institute. The coaching will be available next year.

Dr. Anne Douglass, executive director of UMass Boston’s Early Education Institute, said the new statewide coaching system will utilize models that the institute has been testing and developing.

“We are designing this system to better meet the needs of people directly working with children and families. In the past, it has not always been easy to access all kinds of professional development that someone might need. There hasn’t been a lot of leadership development, and without leadership it’s hard to drive change, make improvements, and implement new strategies,” Douglass said.

She added that people who run family care centers, child care centers, and frontline educators can all benefit from leadership training, which empowers, energizes, and encourages problem-solving. They can also learn how to financially stabilize a child care business so that more can be invested in quality.

Dorothy Williams of Dottie’s Family Childcare on Gaston Street down from Grove Hall, who has been working in early education for more than15 years, said she’s excited that the UMass Boston institute will head the new StrongStart system.

She has high expectations for the new coaching system, comparing it with the institute’s small business leadership program, which she completed two years ago.

“They are fully aware of the plight that family childcare goes through in terms of getting quality training, and they’ll do their training on weekends, like they do at the business institute, so everybody has access to it. The other thing they do is they put it online…so you can do it at your leisure,” Williams said.

Williams and her assistant care for 10 children, from infants to toddlers, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., “sometimes 5:30 depending on whether parents can get here on time.” They do not take vacations, she said.

Through the business program, Williams learned how to advertise her business online, and develop a network where independent early education providers share ideas and resources.

“I worked in a vacuum. It’s not like someone’s coming in to give you a training on-site. We are independent business owners, and it’s up to us to go and seek training,” she said.

The facilitators at UMass Boston’s institute, Williams said, understand that unlike a center, a family childcare has a mixed-age group and there’s the need to make sure educators reach children of every age.

Educators at some center-based facilities also look for special training. Kevin O’Rourke, executive director of the Bird Street Community Center, said his program finds outside consultants to provide trauma-related training. The center offers out-of-school care for children aged five to 12, and O’Rourke said they hope to expand their programs to work with more schools.

Hoa Mai, director of Au Co Preschool in Fields Corner, said four of the six teachers at the school are taking UMass Boston’s online classes for K-1 curriculum, but it’s difficult to integrate the available training into their dual-language program.

“Should we translate some of the books into Vietnamese? Should we read the books in Vietnamese and English back to back or should we do mornings in Vietnamese and afternoons in English? We are still trying to find what’s the best for our children,” Mai said.

Mai said the online training modules offered by the department of EEC are hard to navigate, and her teachers sometimes turn to YouTube videos for free training resources because of funding constraints.

Bridget Hebbert, owner of a family childcare business in Ashmont area, said she completed the EEC modules in a couple of days but didn’t find them helpful. Hebbert said she used to work for daycare agencies that provided training, and she now takes classes through organizations.

Mary Kinsella, vice president of education at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester, said the new StrongStart system “seems to have a deeper and more meaningful approach to” online training. She also hopes it will offer courses for educators working with children who experienced trauma.

Kinsella noted that the overhaul of the early education system is being led by professionals who work with children and researchers studying the science of early childhood development. “The field has a wide variety of educators: in family care, center-based, and in partnerships with public schools,” Kinsella said. “There isn’t a one-size that fits all, and families have different needs, beliefs and cultures. We need to find a way to understand and align some of that.”