In a region with a shortage of licensed child care centers, Walters State’s early childhood education program provides avenues for entering the profession and also for advancing child development skills among those already in the workforce.
The college offers several options for those who want to pursue a career in early childhood education: associate of applied science in early childhood education; preparation for the child development associate credential; associate of science in early childhood education; associate of science in teaching pre K-3; and technical certificate in early childhood education.
“It all depends on the student’s goals and what they want to do,” said Karen Stooksbury, associate professor/coordinator of early childhood education. “We have students who are already working in the field who are taking courses to work on a degree. They work in areas such as child care centers, Head Start programs or after-school programs. Our goal is to help students learn to be aware of best practices for working with young children.”
Early childhood education involves various areas of focus from birth to age 8.
“We know that is the most significant period of life for children to learn and to set the foundations for success,” said Elisabeth Mandracchia, associate professor of early childhood education.
Students who come to Walters State to study early childhood education, according to Mandracchia, tend to be either first-time college students who already work in child care and older students entering the field because of the presence of young children in their lives.
“It’s kind of an interesting combination in some of our classes,” she said. “Some of our students have children and they decide they would like to work at a place where they can take their child instead of leaving the child with someone else. They take a course and find out that working in child care is not just buying a building and saying, ‘I love children.’ It’s understanding budgets and how to set up a business, build relationships and hire staff.”
LeAnn Cameron, a 30-year-old mother of two, is a full-time student from Russellville and has operated a child care business since 2012. “I have always known that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I love working with kids and watching them grow. Two of my earliest kids are starting kindergarten this year. That’s so amazing to see.”
Most of Cameron’s classmates have similar stories to her’s: They have a passion for working with children and they consider child care a calling.
Pauline LaForest started her child care career substituting at the daycare facility where her sister works. “You have to be dedicated to do this work,” said the 21-year-old from Seymour. “I’m just drawn to kids. They have a way of drawing me in.”
For Julie Mutterspaugh of Talbott, working with children has been part of her life since she began babysitting at age 12. At 41, she feels like she has found her niche.
“I really didn’t know I wanted to do this as a career until I started taking classes here,” Mutterspaugh said. “Before long, I began to realize this is what I’m supposed to do and I knew I wanted to continue.”
Mandracchia and Stooksbury are passionate about the curriculum, and they work to instill that passion in their students.
“We believe so much in the importance of those early years, and that people who work with children need to have the expertise to do so,” Stooksbury said. “Our program is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and we’re very proud of that.”
The need for more child care facilities with qualified personnel has increased, Mandracchia said, and Walters State is helping fill the demand.
“We have many fewer child care centers than we had eight years ago,” she said. “Some of that decrease is due to the pre-K programs, and some of it is that Head Start has expanded. But we still have a tremendous need in this area and in this state.”
For students who want to go on and earn a four-year degree in child development, East Tennessee State University will begin its first bachelor of science degree in early childhood development (early care and education) this fall at Walters State’s Sevierville campus.
“ETSU is doing what they call a two-plus-two,” Stooksbury said. “The nice thing about the four-year degree is that it allows them to pursue other positions.”
To learn more about certification and degree options at Walters State, visit the “Early Childhood Education” page under the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the college’s website at Ws.edu.
Explore the Early Childhood Education program at Walters State.
In the photo:
Elisabeth Mandracchia, associate professor of early childhood education at Walters State Community College, helps lead a practicum class.