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Early Childhood Education Alternative Licensure program celebrates teachers

During a recent event at the University of Illinois Chicago, dozens of early childhood teachers and their families celebrated completing the UIC Early Childhood Education Alternative Licensure Program.

The 41 teachers are part of the third cohort of instructors to complete the four-semester program, which is run through the department of educational psychology in the College of Education. The teachers met weekly over the last two years to complete coursework with UIC faculty and coaches that culminated with teachers earning an Illinois Professional Educator License with an endorsement in Early Childhood Education.

The program focuses on helping experienced early childhood education professionals in Chicago earn a teaching license to teach children from birth to second grade. The students earn the license while teaching children in community-based early childhood programs. The tuition and fees for the program are covered by the City of Chicago Early Learning Workforce scholarship. Additional funding to support the program comes from a federal Teacher Quality Partnership grant and Marjorie Pelino, a donor to early childhood programming at UIC.

The program was developed by Catherine Main, director of early child education, and is led by Natalie Vesga, director of the UIC alternative licensure program, both in the department of educational psychology in the College of Education.

“This program was specifically designed to support the exceptional teachers within our existing workforce in the city of Chicago — the teachers right here in this room,” Vesga said.

The UIC program is designed to build upon the professional and personal experiences these teachers have earned working with children in their communities. On average, UIC alternative licensure program students have 15 years of experience in the early childhood education field. They hail from communities across Chicago and represent 64 community-based organizations and schools.

Main applauded members of the third cohort to complete the program for their hard work taking classes after full days of teaching in early childhood centers throughout Chicago. She described their work in the program as “transformational.”

“You all pulled up the curtain on your teaching, you shared your knowledge in your areas of strength and the areas where you wanted to grow…you collaborated with your peers and built this beautiful community of teachers and learners,” Main wrote in a letter Vesga read to the cohort and their families.

At the celebration, Illinois Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas said the positive impact of the program extends not only to the children under their care but also to the children’s parents and family members through what she called its “multiplier effect.”

“We are talking about thousands who are going to benefit because of these 41 amazing educators,” Pacione-Zayas said. “You all are the workforce behind the workforce, you allow others to work.”

Marteen Williams said that even though she had been a teacher to young children for many years, the support of her coaches, instructors and the program allowed her to grow as an instructor and become a “better listener, a better learner, a better teacher and a better leader.”

She said she and the other members of her class felt support from the program instructors, coaches and other students.

“We understood that we are greater together and the children of Chicago deserve for us to show up at our best when we go into these classrooms because not only do we teach lessons, we wipe tears, we feed hungry stomachs and we soothe hurt feelings,” Williams said. “We change lives; we are teachers and this program reminded us time and time again how important we are to this world.”

Another member of the cohort, Danielle Jordan, said her work with the program already led to a promotion to director of the early childhood center where she works. At the center, she works as a coach and has helped get other teachers involved in the program, which led to an improved focus on teaching, thanks to the instructors and coaching at UIC.

“It was the most enjoyable experience I ever had. I am so thankful,” Jordan said. “If we learned anything in our cohort it is the power of our voices. We make change matter.”

Kathryn Chval, dean of the College of Education, extended congratulations to the graduates of the program for their hard work on behalf of Tim Killeen, president of the University of Illinois System, as well as UIC Interim Chancellor Javier Reyes.

She said the positive impact on the young learners is a testament to the educators’ hard work and dedication, and the community owes them gratitude for their focus on the youngest students.

“We know the first five years of life are the most important in an individual’s journey and impacts everything that follows,” Chval said. “Most adults don’t have what it takes to work with young children, the patience, the creativity, the disposition, the dedication and the persistence. Your impact cannot be measured.”

This story was originally posted on UIC Today.