It’s hands-on. The job market is plentiful. And it’s a chance to make a lasting impact.

Consider the rewards of completing the early childhood education program at Tidewater Community College, offered on all four campuses.

While most in the program work toward the Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development, the college also offers a 12-credit career studies certificate with emphasis on child development and a 34-credit certificate with emphasis in early childhood instruction.

Student Suprihatini Walker working
with a young child on the Virginia
Beach Campus.

The program prepares students in the care, supervision and education of young children from birth to age 8 with emphasis on the first five years.

Carole Whitener, who taught the very first childhood education class at TCC in 1974, has watched the program grow. What started as one class has evolved into a program that enrolled 586 in its degree program for 2012-13.

“I’m teaching way past my retirement age just because I believe in the program,” she said. “I believe the quality of childcare makes a difference, and I think we contribute to that by training people the right way.”

The certificate programs prepare graduates for employment as assistants at a child care center; the degree program prepares students to work as full lead teachers. Transferring to Norfolk State University is an option to those with an associate. TCC has an articulation agreement with NSU allowing students to earn their bachelor’s in early childhood with a nonlicensure degree option.

Tuition scholarship money through the Department of Social Services is available, with priority going to those already working with children. TCC is the largest recipient in the state of these scholarships, which pay for up to eight classes, in the state.

Classes are both online and face-to-face and range from Language Arts for Children to Introduction to Exceptional Children to Teaching Art, Music and Movement to Children – dubbed the “fun” class.

“There’s a lot of interaction with kids,” said Cassandra Andrews, head of the early childhood program on the Norfolk Campus. “They make prop boxes, an aesthetic floral arrangement using real flowers; we have parachutes for music; then there’s walking, skipping, galloping.”

Observation hours are built into almost every class. Students observe at the Child Development Lab on the Virginia Beach Campus or at other approved facilities throughout Hampton Roads. TCC is working toward having child care centers aligned with the early childhood curriculum at all student centers.

In CHD 165, students study one child in various areas, including physical, gross and fine motor skills In CHD 265, students implement seven lesson plans and create a portfolio. Sixty hours of observation apiece is required for the two classes.

Felt hands on a board

Students often earn employment upon graduation – TCC students are often approached about jobs during their observation hours – and Whitener noted, “It’s one of the few jobs that will never be shipped overseas.”

In addition to child care centers, graduates are often hired as paraprofessionals in the public schools or by Head Start programs.

“The job market is awesome,” Andrews said, noting students are often hired by the same facilities where they spend their observation hours.

Increasingly, the four TCC campuses are working together on a strategic plan to ensure the curriculum is in line with current trends. TCC is also seeking to become the first community college in the state to be accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It is the first community college to coordinate a regional STAR Quality Rating and Improvement System for child care programs (QRIS). Because courses are infused with the standards that are assessed in this state-wide system, TCC graduates are prepared to work in programs that meet the highest standards of quality care for children.

“It’s an exciting program,” said Jeanne Hopkins, head of the early childhood program on the Portsmouth Campus. “It’s an important program because the sooner we get to the children, the sooner we teach them respect and tolerance. I love training our students to connect with children.”