Project Spotlight: Increasing Diversity in Early Childhood Educators
Posted on February 7, 20183 comments 8715 Views
by Madison Scott
“What does inclusion mean to you?”
This is one of the interview questions asked of candidates for Project PIECE, or Promoting Inclusion in Early Childhood Education. Project PIECE started in 2014 with a five-year grant awarded by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. The award was a collaborative project between Dr. Cindy Ryan at the College of Education and Dr. Patricia Blasco at The Research Institute. I sat down with Dr. Patti Blasco to find out more about what Project PIECE is, where it is now, and what impacts it has had.
Project PIECE aims to increase the number of early childhood educators from underrepresented populations. These educators often come from and return to high-risk schools and are prepared to teach in bilingual classrooms, where they are making a substantial difference. Three cohorts of students were accepted: the first in 2014, the second in 2015, and the third in 2016. The majority of students still in the program are expected to be finished by September of 2019. The project coordinated with several community partners, such as Family Building Blocks and Community Action Head Start, to find interested, qualified individuals.
Throughout the program, the participants have had extensive support from peers, professors, and mentors. Dr. Blasco noted that although they may not stay in contact with their program mentors after graduation, they do gain mentors in their workplace. Dr. Blasco has been tracking the progress of recent graduates to gauge how they’re doing and if there is anything they are struggling with.
“They are grabbed up [for employment] as soon as they come out of the program because they’re so highly trained,” Dr. Blasco said. This is in part because “They have the background in early childhood and they [are often] bilingual.” These traits are greatly desirable, as they make it easier for teachers to bond with and teach children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Since graduation, the cohorts from Project PIECE have gone on to “become major advocates for children and families in the school system,” according to Dr. Blasco, and they have been successful at creating an inclusive environment for all children; both in their classrooms and in the school system as a whole. Dr. Blasco noted two major positive impacts that have arisen from this program: “One, they’re really helping kids know that they’re valued and cared about, and two, they’re modeling for other children in the classroom that that’s how you treat people.”
Project PIECE has made the most of its time and resources to provide Oregon with the best early educators possible. This program has changed lives as participants have developed their own skills and gone on to apply them in the real world. As Dr. Blasco stated, “The kinds of teachers we’re trying to get out there are people that have that kind of impact where you can really say this is someone that really helped me and influenced me and so I’m going to help others.”