Funding Available for Child Care Professional Development

Paula Sorrells of Port Tobacco

MSDE Tuition Assistance Program can be Applied to CSM Courses

Although Paula Sorrells of Port Tobacco has long been established as a child care professional in Southern Maryland, she had always wanted to earn a degree in the field she loves. Sorrells was able to accomplish this goal with the assistance of a state grant that is available to child care providers.

Sorrells is the director and owner of three centers in Charles County. She sits on the board of directors for The Center for Children, she serves on the Early Childhood Advisory Council for the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) and, now, she is also a recent graduate.

To stay in any position in the early childhood field, continuing education is required according to Maryland State licensing, Sorrells said. In the past, she had always found free or inexpensive programs to satisfy those requirements. But she yearned to pursue a college degree in early childhood education. The problem was the cost.

“Going back to school was not in my budget at all,” Sorrells said.

In 2014, Sorrells learned about the Child Care and Professional Development Fund (CCCPDF). The fund is a Maryland State Department of Education tuition assistance program for child care providers working toward a college degree in early childhood education, child development, elementary education or special education at participating colleges or universities in Maryland.

The fund exists because lawmakers acknowledge the critical role that early childhood teachers and caregivers have in preparing children for kindergarten, said Tora Lee Wright, coordinator of the CCCPDF at CSM. “The Child Care Career and Professional Development Fund was designed for early child care professionals to meet the demands of the industry. The fund provides an opportunity for early child care professionals to develop their skills and knowledge to promote a highly skilled workforce in the field of early childhood,” Wright said.

Child care professionals who participate in the Maryland Child Care Credential program at Level Two or higher and who meet the fund eligibility requirements are eligible. New applications are due by March 1. Approved participants will begin their education under the fund July 1. Continuation applications are due by June 30. An award under the fund may be used for the costs of college tuition, fees and required textbooks.

“When the money became available, I knew it was the right time to pursue my degree in early childhood education,” Sorrells said. She applied in March 2014 and started benefiting from the fund in the fall of that year, taking her classes at CSM. It was a turning point. “The grant goes hand-in-hand with other state and federal incentive programs, all with the common goal of increasing well educated teachers in our early childhood programs,” Sorrells said.

“I am truly glad that I had the opportunity to take my early childhood education classes now,” she said. “There are many new and exciting developments that researchers have discovered in how children learn to use their brains to function and to process information. I feel more qualified to implement and incorporate these new teaching methods into our classrooms. As an early childhood educator and advocate for children, I am inspired to embrace and advance the new teaching concept of play based teaching methods for today’s young and growing minds. My educational philosophy had evolved in many ways due to my educational classes and continued work experience.”

“A high quality staff benefits children, families and, ultimately, the center’s overall performance,” Wright said.

Sorrells now encourages all her employees to pursue their college education with the assistance of the MSDE grant. “With the grant paying for books and tuition, there are greater opportunities. Most applicants who apply at my child care centers do not even know about the MSDE Grant or the credentialing programs. At our child care centers, we gladly and enthusiastically inform all applicants during the interview about the MSDE Child Care Career and Professional Development Fund Grant Program and the MSDE Child Care credentialing program since they go hand in hand with each other. We also encourage all current employees to take advantage of these opportunities as well. We are true advocates of both programs.”

Of Sorrells’ 22 employees, 19 of them either have a college degree or are currently enrolled in school to further their education. “We are proud to say that we have nine employees that are currently enrolled or have completed their college degrees through the grant program,” Sorrells said.

For information on the MSDE Child Care Career and Professional Development Fund at CSM, email twright1@csmd.edu or call 301-934-7752. For more on the fund, see http://earlychildhood.marylandpublicschools.org/child-care-providers/office-child-care/credentialing-branch/child-care-career-and-professional. To hear another CSM student discuss how she benefited from the grant, see https://youtu.be/2ad8U_lAwEs.

For information on CSM’s early childhood education, child development, elementary and special education programs, visit www.csmd.edu.

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