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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Course reaching goal of training child-care professionals

The Week of the Young Child, being observed April 2-8 in Las Cruces, focuses on the needs of young children and their families, including the need for quality child care. A New Mexico State University certificate course is helping to meet that need by training hundreds of early care and education professionals.



(Left) Bea Favela, director of the San Andres High School preschool, says child-care workers are educators, not babysitters. Among the preschool's youngest students are, from left, Leonicia Muro, Brittany Benavidez and Jasmine Perez. (Right) Maria Elena Hernandez, left, says she is better trained to work with young children such as Jasmine Perez since Hernandez completed an NMSU early care and education certificate course in Spanish. Hernandez works at the San Andres High School preschool. (NMSU photos by Michael Kiernan)

The New Mexico Entry Level Certificate Course for Early Care and Education Personnel is offered by NMSU's College of Education curriculum and instruction department through La Vida Institute in Las Cruces. Taught in English and Spanish in southern New Mexico and the El Paso area, the course gives students practical experience working with children. Those who complete it receive a certificate from the New Mexico Office of Child Development.

Bea Favela, director of the preschool at San Andres High School in Mesilla, encourages her staff members to take the course. Covered are a variety of child-care topics, Favela said, including first aid, safety, nutrition, professionalism and opportunities for higher education. Favela has more extensive training, having earned her child development associate credential. Now she is working toward a bachelor's in early childhood education at NMSU.

"Don't think we are just babysitting," Favela said. "We're educating children, we're not just watching them."

Under her care are babies to 4-year-olds, children of teen-age parents at the alternative high school. Throughout the school day, mothers drop by to spend time with their youngsters. "We work with the parents and are an example to them," Favela said.

San Andres preschool employee Maria Elena Hernandez, who recently completed the certificate course in Spanish, has first-hand experience as a mother and grandmother but had no previous formal training. "Me siento mas segura en lo que hago porque he aprendido como se hace correctamente," Hernandez said.

"She feels more secure about what she is doing because she has learned the right way to do it," Favela said, translating for Hernandez.

Yolanda Lopez, another San Andres employee, also completed the course and is working toward a child development associate credential. Lopez said she has been a child-care worker since 1994 and is happy in her job. "I knew a lot of things but the course still helped," she said. "It's wonderful they (NMSU) can provide this kind of training at a low cost. This was $20."

Funded through a three-year, $104,000 Kellogg Foundation grant that ends this August, the course is part of a statewide effort to improve critically needed child-care and preschool services to children up to 8 years old, said Nancy Baptiste, director of the NMSU Preschool. She also is the Kellogg project's co-principal investigator.

The 45-hour course, developed by Baptiste and her colleagues, has been offered in English throughout the state for three years and in Spanish since last summer. NMSU is working in partnership with other New Mexico universities and colleges, including the tribal colleges, and with local residents, to provide training. About 3,000 people, including about 400 in southern New Mexico, have completed the English version of the course. Since last summer about 40 people in southern New Mexico and 26 in El Paso have completed the Spanish version.

Baptiste said it was important to translate the course into Spanish to make it accessible to more people. "There are many monolingual Spanish-speaking child-care providers, particularly those who provide home care," she said.

Students who finish the course may also work for community agencies and family support programs, such as Head Start, that serve children and their families, she said. Ultimately, children reap the benefit of more people becoming professionally educated care givers, Baptiste said. New Mexico and the nation have a shortage of qualified people to care for young children, she said. By 2010 the United States will need 600,000 early childhood educators. With welfare reform and increases in the number of dual-career families and single-parent families, the need in New Mexico is constantly growing, she said.

Loui Reyes, an NMSU college assistant professor of curriculum and instruction who teaches the certificate course in Spanish, noted that changes in society are affecting children. Some parents seek child-care services for a few hours while they work out at their health club. Others work two jobs or double shifts and need places for their children to stay for extended periods of time, he said.

"We need trained people to take care of our children," Baptiste said. "Many children are cared for in unlicensed, unregistered homes where caregivers have no training."

As part of the certificate course mentors encourage students to move up the career lattice and earn associate's, bachelor's or graduate degrees.

Marc Pruyn, an NMSU assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, is beginning to conduct research to find out what students gain from the course and how to improve it. He began by gathering information from students who were taking the course in Spanish. "They felt excited and empowered," he said.

The students were pleased the course was being offered in Spanish, Pruyn said. They looked forward to working with their mentors but didn't know what to expect. They said they wanted to continue their educations but didn't know the steps involved.

Pruyn will continue gathering student responses this summer and report his findings in August when the Kellogg grant ends.

Baptiste said she is hopeful the Kellogg Foundation will extend the grant or she can acquire other funding to continue and expand this type of training.

For more information about NMSU's early childhood program, persons can call (505) 646-2632. Information about the entry-level certificate course is also available through La Vida Institute, (505) 527-1149.

Photos are available at http://kiernan.nmsu.edu/newsphoto.
For a print, call (505) 646-3221.

PHOTO: hernandez.jpg
CUTLINE: Maria Elena Hernandez, left, says she is better trained to work with young children such as Jasmine Perez since Hernandez completed an NMSU early care and education certificate course in Spanish. Hernandez works at the San Andres High School preschool. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

PHOTO: favela.jpg
CUTLINE: Bea Favela, director of the San Andres High School preschool, says child-care workers are educators, not babysitters. Among the preschool's youngest students are, from left, Leonicia Muro, Brittany Benavidez and Jasmine Perez. (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)

Rita A. Popp
March 30, 2000