ST. PETERSBURG — If you are enthusiastic about helping to shape young lives, the Early Childhood Education program offered at the St. Pete campus of the Pinellas Technical Education Center (pTEC) can help you on your path to molding young minds.
The program is designed for teachers that are working with children from birth through five years old, explained Victoria Cribb, the program coordinator.
“The courses that we offer here will enable those students to become lead teachers or staff members in charge,” she said.
This apprenticeship program covers such courses as child development, class curriculum, guidance, leadership, professionalism and classroom management. The students are usually already working as assistants or “floaters,” Cribb said, where they go to various classrooms to relieve teachers for a break or assist with nap time, but once they earn this credential they can become what Cribb calls SMICs, or staff members in charge.
Students are put through a four-week orientation period, which includes a realistic mock interviewing session.
“Many of our students after completing that course they will take the director credential course, which is another five week course, and they can actually run a preschool or own their own preschool,” Cribb said. In order for them to become a director they need to complete this course here.”
The students in the program work at various preschools and it is Cribb’s job to go out in the field where they’re working and observe them.
“If a student is having difficulty in various areas like circle time or classroom management, I can actually go out and do some modeling for them,” Cribb stated.
While students accumulate their on-the-job training during the day at various preschools, they meet weekly in the evening at the pTEC campus, where the content part of the course is taught by certified teachers who have experience or a degree in early childhood education.
“I have four teachers that work under me and we work with a book called ‘Working with Young Children,’” Cribb said. “And some of the things students have to do is put together a lesson plan and after they actually put it together in a written format, they’ll have to come up and demonstrate that plan to their peers.”
Students can create their own activities, or units, and teach a whole week’s lesson from each unit. These are comprised of such fundamentals as roll call, math and art, for example, and even various themes like “circus,” “back to school” or “holidays,” Cribb said.
“It all correlates with something they’re trying to teach,” she said. “We have a total of over 100 different units that they can choose from and then they can create their own.”
Students will amass 2,000 on-the-job training hours and 144 classroom hours during the program, which seeks to balance written work with peer involvement in the classroom.
“It’s a very hands-on course that they’re working on during the night,” Cribb said. “There are a lot of lectures but there’s a lot of working in groups and things like that, so they’re learning a lot from their peers as well.”
Cribb noted that this apprenticeship course is provided free of tuition to students who have a high school diploma and are at least 18 years old.
“They may have minimal costs to purchase some of their supplies that they’ll need to create their units,” she said, “but the tuition part of it is exempt.”
Though students are generally in their late teens to mid-20s, Cribb noted that the program attracts people of all ages.
“Some are retired and they want to do something different,” she said. “We have several people in their 50s and 60s that come in and graduate from the program that already have degrees in other areas but they chose to get into child care.”
The early childhood education program, Cribb said, is very beneficial for students who are starting off in such a career and may not be sure about going to college right away.
“This could be a step for them because we do prepare our students,” she averred. “They have to do a lot of writing, essays, competency goals and things like that. We spend a lot of time with them. I find that this is one of the best programs that we can offer for individuals coming into early childhood.”
Cribb observed that students could even obtain college credit with St. Petersburg College (SPC) through the program.
“Many of our students go off to college after they’ve completed our course,” she said. “We do have an articulation agreement with SPC and once they finish this course they can receive nine credit hours toward their A.S. degree in early childhood education at SPC. I have at least two students that I know now who have gone back to school to get those A.S. degrees and they’re teaching.”
Cribb, who worked as kindergarten teacher for 12 years, believes it is key to provide young children with a strong foundation in order for them to be successful, and the right people can make a difference.
“I have a passion and a love for children!” she enthused. “Since I was very young I’ve always known that I wanted to be a teacher. It’s been my passion and I truly believe it’s a gift. Everyone can’t teach. It has to be something that they truly want to do.”
The next Early Childhood Education class starts soon. If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available. See ad on page 12.