Oregon State University: OSU receives $14.4 million grant for statewide center to support early childhood educators

Oregon State University will use a new $14.4 million grant from Oregon’s Early Learning Division to establish a statewide center focused on strengthening the early childhood education workforce in Oregon.

The Early Learning Systems Initiative center will be housed within OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families.

“Many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased attention to the challenges facing the early childhood education workforce. There’s high turnover, low wages and a lack of opportunity for professional development and advancement,” said Megan McClelland, director of the Hallie E. Ford Center and principal investigator on the grant. “I think the state has really recognized the need to increase support for Oregon’s diverse field of early childhood educators in both home and center-based programs.”

The new center will provide support and training from an anti-bias, culturally responsive lens to better equip educators who care for children from marginalized populations and for children who have experienced trauma. It will work closely with similar centers at Portland State University, Western Oregon University as well as the Early Learning Division to build on their existing work and to align with the Early Childhood Suspension and Expulsion Prevention Program currently being developed.

Rather than teaching educators directly, the center will focus on a “train the trainers” framework, providing mentorship and resources for coaches around the state to share with early childhood educators within their communities. The center has hired four new coaches to help perform this work.

Recent OSU reports show that every county in Oregon qualifies as a “child care desert” for infants and toddlers, while 25 of 36 counties are child care deserts for kids ages 3-5. Desert status means there are at least three children per available child care slot in those age groups.

Working with community partners to understand the needs of the early childhood education workforce and identify gaps in training is an essential part of addressing this problem, especially considering the impacts of the pandemic, McClelland said.

She said Oregon educators have communicated that they don’t have enough training in how to meet the needs of children from marginalized populations and children who have been exposed to trauma. They also said they need more training in how to prevent preschool expulsion.

McClelland pointed to a major Yale study from 2005 that found pre-K students are expelled at more than three times the rate of K-12 students. Furthermore, federal data from 2014 showed that Black preschool students were 3.6 times more likely than white students to receive out-of-school suspensions. In Oregon, a 2020 statewide household survey found that 6.3% of all children were asked to leave their child care programs, with higher rates among children of color and children with disabilities.

Trauma-informed teaching will be at the foreground of the center’s work, as kids who have been exposed to trauma are more likely to act out and to experience anxiety and other mental health issues.

The center will also give coaches resources to teach early childhood educators about transitioning to a “strength-based” mindset, where the goal is to deescalate stressful situations and prevent problems before they arise for the benefit of both students and teachers.

“We want to support the early education workforce in ways that reduce stress and burnout, so they are more effective educators,” McClelland said.

The center will also create digital literacy trainings to help educators access online professional learning opportunities in their preferred language.

OSU faculty members Megan Pratt, Shauna Tominey, Bridget Hatfield and Shannon Lipscomb will be co-leaders of the center.

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