Nearly a year ago we profiled Worcester’s new childcare apprenticeship program, Project Flourish.
Developed by the Center for Childcare Careers, a program of Seven Hills affiliate Family Services of Central MA, with strategic and fundraising support from Edward Street, Project Flourish helps early career professionals advance via classroom instruction, mentoring, pay increases, and professional certifications.
Fast forward to April 2022 and apprentices like Amanda Santiago of the Worcester Community Action Council’s Southbridge Head Start program are poised to become certified early educators.
From kitchen and cleaning staff to licensed early educator
Santiago, a former kitchen and cleaning staff member at the Worcester Community Action Council (WCAC), is a shining example of what happens when pathways to childcare careers are made more accessible, affordable, and worthwhile.
“I had always wanted to be in the classroom and Project Flourish gave me the opportunity,” says Santiago, whose daughters attend Head Start. “I like that I’m more prepared as a teacher and a mom. Every day I learn something new about what young children need. Every day is a day of knowledge.”
Santiago’s Project Flourish mentor, Brenda Polleys, a lead educator for WCAC’s Head Start program, says Santiago is now prepared for lead teacher responsibilities.
“She has a lot more knowledge of the classroom as far as scheduling curriculum and redirecting children who may need behavioral support,” says Polleys. “She’s more than capable of running a classroom by herself.”
Project Flourish is doing its part to solve the childcare crisis
It’s real. The childcare crisis, fueled in part by staffing shortages, is affecting families across the country, including here in Worcester.
Project Flourish is infusing Central Massachusetts with program support, one qualified educator at a time.
“It’s very exciting that the field is embracing the apprenticeship model,” says Leslie Baker, Workforce Development Coordinator at Seven Hills Foundation, who directs Project Flourish. “Educators report feeling well supported as they master new skills, and mentors are sharing their knowledge through the coaching experience while being recognized as leaders within their programs.”
By 2023 as many as 75 participants will have graduated with early educator certifications. Santiago and her fellow apprentices – the first to complete their training - will graduate out of the program this June following the completion of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training.
Local childcare programs are already reaping the benefits.
“Employers are seeing higher retention rates for new employees than they have seen in the past,” says Baker. “It’s a win-win-win for children, families, and childcare centers.”