BCC, MCLA work together on early education degree offerings

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PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County's two public higher education institutions are stepping up to support educators at the opposite end of the field, in early childhood education.

The presidents of Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts recently signed an articulation agreement in their shared satellite campus space located within the city's Silvio O. Conte Federal Building. Both institutions have had early childhood course offerings, but this latest joint venture defines a much clearer pathway of how candidates can strive for two- and four-year degrees in this field.

As a result, MCLA this fall will welcome interested graduates of BCC's early childhood associate degree program into its degree-completion program specifically tailored for early childhood educators. Those who successfully complete this local course of credentialing will walk away in just over two years with a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies, along with all the necessary certifications mandated by the state Department of Early Education and Care.

The move comes at a time when state legislators and lobbyists are continuing to campaign for raising investments to improve the quality of early childhood education and care in the commonwealth.

Heather Thompson, the after-school program director at the Pittsfield-based Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires, said this new collaboration can help to accomplish this. She describes the work that the staff and students do in the early childhood programs as being "important and impactful."

Thompson has worked in this field for 17 years, and is a 2015 graduate of MCLA's interdisciplinary studies program in the early childhood track. The teacher had to initially postpone her career plans after high school graduation when she became pregnant with her son at age 19. Returning to college at a non-traditional age, Thompson said she found a department of compassionate and relevant faculty who offered her "more than just an education." She said her teachers offered her parenting and work-life balancing advice to help her stay motivated and supported in completing her degree.

Thompson said she also watched her cohort classmates become "excited about learning ... I could see them grow as educators."

Her classmate, Melissa "Missy" Tarjick, now works as consultant for preschool enrichment and a social worker for the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pittsfield. Tarjick said the fact that there's now a clearer way to transfer credits between early childhood education programs at BCC and MCLA will go a long way to help with that work-life balance. Mindful of that fact, the program's architects designed the program so that students only have to meet for class in person one night per week.

"It's one less thing educators have to deal with as adults with their busy lives," said Tarjick, who managed to earn her degree while raising her family of nine children, which includes foster children.

"It's so true. And we can't afford to take classes to have them not transfer," Thompson said.

Officials from MCLA and BCC lauded graduates like Thompson and Tarjick for their hard work and dedication, not only as educators and program coordinators, but also as parents.

"You go, girl," was one of the first things BCC President Ellen Kennedy said to Thompson after the program director gave her speech.

Kennedy recalled her own experience of having to put her son, when he was just 9 weeks old, into a child care setting in order to get back to work. It was there that Kennedy said she learned the art of "co-parenting with his teachers," and emphasizing the importance of having quality, caring and proactive early childhood professionals working in centers, schools and home care settings.

Jake Eberwein, MCLA's dean of graduate and continuing education, emceed the signing event, and said this step underlines the work happening throughout the county and across the state to raise the early childhood education bar to give children and families a better start in life.

"Early education teachers are the foundation of our regional education continuum, and their willingness to commit to furthering their own education will assure our youngest children receive high quality, highly engaged early education experiences," he said.


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