As Colorado leaders and President Joe Biden's administration look to expand free preschool, advocates are calling a shortage of early education teachers a true crisis.
But the nonprofit Experienced Engaged believes it has a solution: bringing older adults into the early education workforce.
Lisa Armao, early education program manager with Experienced Engaged, helped create the Early Childhood Service Corps.
“We believe older adults can help serve in areas of critical need in the community. And I can't think of a bigger critical need right now than early childcare,” Armao said.
The Early Childhood Service Corps will train adults over the age of 50 to be classroom volunteers or business advisors to childcare centers. A separate program will certify adults to be early education teachers. The University of Colorado - Denver will provide two virtual courses to be completed between January and May of 2022. The goal is to have a new workforce ready by summer of 2022.
“We're hoping that by summer and next fall, these trained older adults will feel safe and will be able to be dispatched into early childhood workforce,” Armao said, noting that more children will likely be vaccinated against COVID-19 by next summer.
Armao said for every open childcare spot in Colorado, there are three to five children waiting for the spot due to shortage in both providers and staff.
“Directors are spending an inordinate amount of time in classrooms, so the business of running their businesses isn't getting done,” Armao said.
Other early childhood advocates in Colorado have echoed Armao’s concerns that as Colorado expands access to free preschool, childcare centers may not be able to hire enough staff. Early educators earn less than K-12 teachers, but advocates have been pushing for federal pandemic funding to be used to increase salaries.
Armao said the pandemic highlighted the importance of quality early education not only for children’s development, but to support the entire economy.
“I think it's about time that it's gotten the attention that it deserves, because we now know that it's really hard to work from home and have your toddler in your lap and in all your zoom shots,” Armao said.
Adults over 50 years old who are interested in learning more about the Early Childhood Service Corps can fill out a form online. Informational sessions are being held online every Tuesday and Thursday.
You can also email Lisa Armao directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.