116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City high school students will be able to explore a career in early childhood education and earn college credits through a new pilot program — the Early Childhood Academy — in partnership between the district and Kirkwood Community College.
The college credits students can earn through the Early Childhood Academy also are a step toward earning a paraeducator certification. Paras assist teachers in reinforcing lessons, keeping students on task, and are an extra pair of eyes in the classroom. Paras also are aides to students with disabilities and behavior problems or with physical or feeding needs.
Early childhood educators and paraprofessionals are two career fields facing workforce shortages, said Jon Weih, director of the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa.
“In our area and state, we struggle to find enough people to work in early childhood and child care,” Weih said. “It’s difficult and expensive for people who work full time to find a place for their children to go before they start school.”
Through the Early Childhood Academy, Iowa City high school students can earn the equivalent of a Childhood Development Associate certification, a nationally recognized credential. It demonstrates competence in early childhood education, enhances skills with young children and increases career opportunities.
There is interest from community members for schools to provide opportunities for high school students to explore a career in early childhood education, Weih said.
“Kirkwood and school districts often have their ear to the ground about what local economics look like and what community needs are,“ Weih said.
The academy is four classes — 12 college-level credit hours. Classes are Intro to Early Childhood, Child Health and Safety, Nutrition, Early Childhood 1 and Early Childhood Guidance.
“Get yourself a skill that’s in demand,” said Nick Proud, Iowa City school’s executive director of secondary education. “We want to have plenty of options for our kids and a variety of different pathways to explore.”
A growing number of students — and their parents — want to take advantage of earning college credits while still in high school, Proud said.
The Early Childhood Academy expands career and technical education opportunities already offered through Kirkwood’s Career Academies, such as nursing, automotive technology, advanced manufacturing, welding and agricultural science.
These academies give students practical experience to decide whether or not it’s a career they want to say “yes” to before investing in college tuition, Weih said.
“College can be an expensive place to find yourself and figure out what it is you want to do,” Weih said. “Exploring things a little bit earlier and earning certifications or college credits in high school try it on before investing in a program they decide it’s not what they want.”
While the Early Childhood Academy is being piloted in the Iowa City Community School District during the 2022-23 school year, it could be expand to other districts soon, Weih said.
After completing the Childhood Development Associate equivalent, students can start working in early childhood education, hone their skills and get paid for it, said Amanda Humphrey, Kirkwood Community College dean of social services.
“In order for people to go back to work, they need to have reliable, quality child care, and yet wages to pay child care workers to make day care affordable makes it hard for child care an attractive career option for students,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey hopes the academy begins to change that by providing high school students curriculum and skills in early childhood education to attract them to the field.
Students can begin to “dip their toe” in the field, Humphrey said, learn important skills and meet a community need.
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