COLORADO SPRINGS — Registration for Universal Pre-K in Colorado opened today. The listing comes at a time when many child care centers and schools have been experiencing teacher shortages for the past few years.
Those who spoke with News5 said today is a big day and a critical step forward for early childhood education. However, some child care centers still face a shortage of teachers. Meanwhile, UCCS offers expanded opportunities to meet the need.
“The last time you came here, we had some classrooms closed because we didn’t have enough teaching staff,” Liz Denson said.
Denson is CEO and President of Early Connections Learning Centers. She said shortages of pre-K teachers have been felt nationally and locally, but trends have improved. About six months ago, nearly a dozen positions were open at the Early Connections Learning Center, and now there are only four left.
“We’re in pretty good shape right now, but it’s a definite reflection of the programs and the work we’ve done over the last few years to prepare for this,” Denson said.
She credits the work done by local partners and a program called “Earn to Learn.” The program enables more students to work in entry-level child care jobs while they are paid and continue to attend school. Since the launch of the program, 100% of enrolled students have completed the program.
She says, however, that now there are still many unanswered questions about the universal pre-k program.
“I think the worry about having enough teachers, having enough open classrooms and having that space available is going to remain. So much is still up in the air even though the app launched today,” Denson said.
UCCS has also been working to meet the workforce needs when the UPK program launches next summer.
Dr. Lissanna Follari works at the College of Education. She says the campus recently expanded early childhood education programs.
“We have spent years preparing new programs, new paths and new bridges to overcome the obstacles that plague our field in terms of integrating our most qualified teachers into our early childhood classrooms,” said the Dr. Follari.
Dr. Follari says they also work closely with local school districts to inform others of the opportunities available at the University. She added that outreach efforts are a key component in recruiting and retaining future teachers.
“We knew there were communities across the state, certainly in our area, but across the state that had a barrier to accessing teacher preparation. So we had to create opportunities that would reach every corner of the state,” Dr. Follari said.
Dr. Follari says one of their biggest questions is how to continue funding early childhood programs on their campus.
Meanwhile, Denson said today was a victory in early childhood education, but as the UPK program rolls out, the biggest challenge will be in rural communities.
“In terms of more rural areas, that’s where you’re really going to experience some of these teacher shortages, not having qualified staff in place, not having facilities in place to provide the services that the ‘PUK is asking these areas to provide,’ Deson says.
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