Mike Van Meter spent decades in the business world. Now in his 70s, he’s spending what should be his retirement in a preschool classroom.
Van Meter is a member of the newly formed Early Childhood Service Corp, which recruits retired adults to work as preschool educators in Colorado.
“I am what they call an encore substitute teacher. It’s not a full-time gig and for a retired person, it's perfect,” Van Meter said.
Lisa Armao launched the program in the fall of 2021. Since then, nearly 10 of the initial recruits have gone through the required training to become encore substitute teachers and have been placed in childcare centers and preschools. The positions are paid. Van Meter and his fellow subs completed a semester of part-time coursework through the University of Colorado-Denver to receive the necessary qualifications.
Armao said the older adults in the program are looking for meaningful way to contribute to their communities.
“By 2030, 30% of the population of Colorado will be over 60, and we need anywhere from 23% to 32% more early childhood workers, so it makes sense to me that we put those two together,” Armao said.
Demand for teachers will only grow in the fall of 2023, when Colorado launches universal preschool, paying for 10 free hours per week for all 4-year-olds.
The area manager of Thrive Preschool in Englewood, Bethanne Rodriguez, said hiring continues to be difficult.
“It’s challenging work — it’s physically, mentally and emotionally demanding,” she said.
In addition to providing staff, Rodriguez said she appreciates how the Early Childhood Service Corp bridges the generation gap.
“So many kids are lacking that intergenerational connection with grandparents and other relatives and to bring that to them is huge,” she said.
For Van Meter, most days don’t feel like work.
“Every single time something makes me smile, or something gives me joy, why wouldn't you want that?” he said.
The program relies on grant funding and donations and is currently looking to connect with more preschool directors who need staff. Armao said 50 recruits are currently training to be encore substitutes. There are also opportunities for volunteer classroom helpers, which are unpaid.