VTSU Early Childhood Education Institute Enrolls Record Number of Students

Vermont State’s Early Childhood Education Institute Enrolls a Record Number of Students

135 participants from across Vermont engage in rich, diverse curriculum, partnership with State of Vermont make program substantially free

The Vermont Early Childhood Educators Institute (ECEI) 2024 is filled to capacity. All 135 slots are taken and that’s good news for Vermont, where quality child care providers are still in strong demand. ECEI equips early childhood and afterschool educators to provide high quality experiences to the children in their care. The Institute, coordinated by Vermont State University (VTSU), also makes it easy for those seeking or renewing licensure to get the credits or certification they need online, while learning through a rich curriculum developed by expert instructors. Participants can choose to earn a certificate for attending the institute, or they can study more in-depth and earn college credit.

“We realized a lot of the folks who are attending the institute were working toward licensure or getting continuing education to retain their license,” said Ric Reardon, PhD, executive director of VTSU Center for Schools. “The Agency of Education prefers to see credits, rather than just ‘seat time.’ For example, a licensed kindergarten teacher who wants to add an early childhood endorsement would need to include credited courses as evidence to use to add that endorsement.”

This year, the Center for Schools has been able to offer the ECEI for free to participants, with an additional low cost added if participants choose to receive college credit because of some very substantial financial support from the State of Vermont Child Development Division.

“We have a child care crisis in Vermont with too many families waiting too long to find care and this impacts our entire workforce, including at VTSU, so we are proud that this institute is part of the solution,” said VTSU Interim President David Bergh. “We are training and skilling up hundreds of early childhood educators. This program is a great example of how we step in and respond with accessible and affordable programs that address our State’s social and economic needs.”

“Vermont employers understand that an effective childcare system is a precondition to having an available and engaged workforce” noted Seth Bowden, President of the Vermont Business Roundtable. “One of the key metrics to a sustainable system is the number of educators entering into high quality programs and viewing childcare not as a job, but as a career. We are excited to see this collaboration led by Vermont State University in partnership with the State of Vermont to train and prepare more childcare providers. By developing a professionalized childcare workforce, this work will both strengthen the economy and support the youngest and most vulnerable Vermonters.”

The State partnership makes it even easier for educators to participate in the ECEI. “The State funds the Institute to offer these courses at a low cost,” related Lynne Robbins, early childhood and afterschool systems specialist for the Vermont Department of Children and Families Child Development Division, who sits on the planning committee for the Institute. “Many early educators are achieving courses that help them meet qualifications under Vermont Child Care Licensing requirements or for Agency of Education Educator License requirements. Others enjoy the opportunity to interact with educators across the broad early childhood system while engaging in content that is relevant for their work with young children and families,” she said.

The diverse programming offers many options to participants and brings together leaders from across the state in early learning.

“We hold a keynote presentation for the first 45 minutes—welcoming speakers from VTSU, the Agency of Education, Head Start, the Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children (VAEYC), and other organizations dedicated to quality childcare. Then the participants head off to the strands they select,” shared Reardon.

The seven strands this year range from “Creative Techniques for Working with Trauma-Impacted Children and Families” to “Math in the Outdoor Classroom.” Reardon said they repeat the most popular ones from year to year, but they like to add two or three new strands each year for variety.

“The beauty is that there is a good variety of topics presented, so that anyone can hopefully find one that speaks to their needs,” Robbins explained. “For me, I like seeing topics related to social and emotional learning, because understanding this topic helps early childhood educators in reducing behaviors that may otherwise result in suspension or expulsion of children. No young child should be kicked out of a program because their early childhood educator did not have a better understanding of early childhood behaviors,” she expressed.

“Every year, we ask folks who attend—usually around 90 to 95 students—how they would like to see the Institute function the next year—on campus, virtually, or hybrid. They continue to love the fact that it’s online—for financial reasons, geographical reasons, their own childcare,” he noted. “We have participation from 13 Vermont counties and some from New York, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

“Our costs, much of which are now covered by State and Federal grants, can be lower when we offer the course online—even the cost to provide college credit. A typical 3-credit course from VTSU is almost $2,100. The cost to students for this course (3 credits) is only $435,” he remarked.

Reardon praised the work Robbins and her colleagues have done to help the Institute gain funding—particularly this year, when the four-day program registration is free to participants.

“They asked, ‘if you brought in 135 participants, how much would it cost for their registration fees and to cover the instructors’ stipends?’ and they covered it,” he explained. “We hope we can partner together to continue providing this low-cost programming in the years to come, as long as the demand for it continues.”

The workforce demand in the field is high. Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, applauded the work of the ECEI to strengthen the quality of Vermont’s early childhood education programs. “Congratulations to VTSU for record enrollment in The Vermont Early Childhood Educators Institute and thank you to the participants for all you do to advance the profession and care for our children. Continuing education is essential to strengthening the quality of Vermont’s early childhood educators. Prioritizing the development and ongoing support of educators is essential to solving Vermont’s child care crisis as we work together to create a comprehensive childcare system that meets the needs of Vermont families, children, and employers. These professionals are nurturing, teaching and preparing our youngest Vermonters for their future. I’m excited to see such strong enrollment in this program this year and know it will bring incredible value to early childhood education programs across Vermont.”