A cohort of Islanders are preparing to step up as early childhood educators on the Island through a program created through a partnership by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Education and Training (MVCET), Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, and Cape Cod Community College.
The Early Childhood Education Cohort has 10 students enrolled in an asynchronous online course called “Child Growth and Development,” a three-credit course and a requirement for early childhood education licensure through Cape Cod Community College. Meanwhile, the students also receive wrap-around services, such as weekly optional cohort meetings at Community Services’ Early Education Care Building to foster further learning and discussions about early childhood education alongside opportunities on the Island. This is also a chance for the students to learn from each other and about themselves. These sessions are facilitated by two early childhood educators who support the students’ professional development and share their experiences: Heather Quinn, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ early childhood program director, and Joanne Lambert, who operated a family childcare program for 25 years on Martha’s Vineyard, and is currently Community Services’ family childcare network coordinator. (Lambert is also the Oak Bluffs columnist for The Times.)
“Every week looks a little bit different. We might have different discussion questions we might explore, sometimes related to course content and sometimes early-childhood-related in general,” Quinn said.
Lambert said this cohort “has been fantastic.”
“It’s a very diverse group of adult learners. Everyone is really invested in what they’re doing, coming from different places and different reasons,” she said.
During a Thursday, Dec. 8, meeting, the students discussed what they learned from the program with one another and the facilitators while enjoying slices of pizza from Rocco’s Pizzeria. Quinn said, “It’s been so wonderful” to hear the diverse viewpoints participants brought to the cohort and early childhood education on the Island. Additionally, the cohort built on the lessons through online resources during the meeting, such as watching a Ted Talk underscoring the importance of playing and communicating with children 5 and under, and the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations, an organization that “assists states and programs” implement the Pyramid model, which is described as “a framework of evidence-based practices for promoting young children’s healthy social and emotional development.” According to Lambert, other methods were used during previous Thursday meetings to “bring the subject to life for students.” These included guest speakers and visiting a preschool center.
The students enrolled in the program were satisfied with how the program progressed. Avery Miner, who works at Plum Hill School in Vineyard Haven, said connecting with his fellow cohort members and Island educators was just as important as the courses he took.
“This program definitely offered me insight into the community that is around early childhood on Martha’s Vineyard,” Miner said. “It gave me an idea of what there is elsewhere, and kind of what the future might look like. I didn’t have that clear of a picture beforehand, but talking to people who have been in this community for a long time gave me the insight to see where that end goal could be.”
Miner said he could see himself becoming a lead teacher, and the program has helped him improve his work at Plum Hill School.
Sayra Guimaraes said before starting the course, her mother asked, “What do you want to be in five years?” The program “opened my mind,” and solidified her goal to become a child psychologist.
“I want to help kids understand their own feelings, because I know when you’re young, when you’re a kid, you don’t really understand your own feelings, and I want to be able to be helpful to the kids and be a part of their lives,” Guimaraes said, adding that the cohort meetings “made a lot of a difference.”
The cohort meetings were a beneficial aspect of the program, according to the students.
Panecia Daniels, a teacher in Community Services’ Starfish class (2- to 3-year-old group) enrolled in the program, expressed her appreciation for the cohort.
“I always wanted to go back to college and update my credentials, but college is off-Island. It puts a damper on going back and forth, so I was like, ‘Forget about it, forget about it,’” Daniels said. “Since I heard about this opportunity, I’m grateful to be here. It feels like a college experience as well. Even though [college] is [off-Island], the cohort being here every Thursday, it feels like we’re in class.”
Additionally, Daniels said the discussions allow each of them to hear about a subject from a different perspective and culture. Daniels is originally from Jamaica, where the education system differs from the U.S.
Guimaraes said the cohort acted as a support network for the students that made the experience “better and easier for all of us.”
Miner hopes to help others considering early childhood care as a career, as the cohort meetings have helped him in “this community of love.”
“It gave me something every week to look forward to,” he said. “It took away the stress away from the tests and the quizzes, because I knew that even if I did struggle, there were more than enough resources around me to figure out any problems, and there was always a solution that was ready to be found. It just gave me confidence in a time where you can feel overwhelmed by the coursework.”
MVCET executive director Holly Bellebuono told The Times this program was developed “out of a desire from MVCET to meet economic demands” for Martha’s Vineyard based on MVCET and Rural Scholars research and MVYouth’s consultant report, both of which “identified the lack of qualified childcare providers for infants and toddlers on the Island.” Bellebuono told The Times that establishing MVCET’s community college consortium “was a blur.”
“Thanks to the liaison efforts of Deb Maher at Cape Cod Community College, we were able to quickly put a class together that met local needs and was accessible. Also, thanks to a grant from West Chop Community Fund, we were able to provide scholarships and organize weekly meetings of this new cohort, so students could network and learn together,” Bellebuono said. “I believe this is the first early childhood ed program in many years, though the high school has held early childhood classes for their students.”
The West Chop and Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation funds made the program essentially free for cohort members. Bellebuono said an option of offering business classes is also being explored, since some students may want to launch their own at-home childcare services.
Program organizers expect a continued positive impact from the education based on how this semester went.
“MVCET is planning to host the same class again in January, along with an additional infant and toddler class, both through Cape Cod Community College. Next year we plan to offer the same classes, and at that point assess whether the need for qualified childcare professionals has been alleviated,” Bellebuono said. If the demands are met, MVCET will “carousel” the program, and offer it roughly every two to three years “to keep providing access for new professionals without saturating the Vineyard market.” How frequently the program runs, and “when and how to expand it,” will be determined by collaborating with MVCET’s community partners and local employers.
Cape Cod Community College liaison Deborah Maher said she was “surprised that we had 10 students show up in the beginning.”
“There’s definitely interest in taking another course from Cape Cod Community College in the spring semester, which starts at the end of January,” Maher said. “Most of the students have chosen to take a course about infants and toddlers, and there’s a huge need on the Vineyard for teachers who know infants and toddlers, so we’re pretty excited about all the possibilities.”
Lambert said early childhood education on Martha’s Vineyard experiences a similar staffing shortage to other businesses on the Island.
Quinn said she was “grateful for the commitment” MVCET devoted to “supporting early childhood education on the Island.”
“They plan to build on the success of the first cohort next semester, offering wrap-around support for students enrolled in credit-bearing college coursework and creating meaningful opportunities for professional development for new and veteran educators. These experiences will help to attract new teachers to the field, as well as support the dedicated professionals already working in early childhood classrooms across the Island,” Quinn said.
As the first semester wraps up, Bellebuono thought the program was “wildly successful.”
“It’s satisfying for MVCET to create these new programs based on need and interest and have them be successful, especially after COVID, when things were crazy, and even if you wanted to do something good for the community, you couldn’t,” Bellebuono said. “This has really been a step in the right direction.”
An information session about the early childhood education program offerings for the spring semester will take place on Thursday, Dec. 15, from 6 to 7 pm at Community Services’ Early Education Care Building. An additional three-credit course called “Teaching Infants and Toddlers” will be offered to the fall cohort students and some of the newly enrolled students.