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School of Education Receives Funding to Close Equity Gap in Early Education Field

JPMorgan Chase donates $5 million to AU and partners for their efforts to make early childhood education more equitable

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Pres. Sylvia Burwell, AU Trustee and JPMorgan Chase Vice Chair Peter Scher, and SOE Dean Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy celebrate at Martha's Table in the District.

The littlest learners, age 5 and under, achieve better learning and developmental outcomes when they are taught by qualified professionals.

Recognizing this, the city of Washington, DC, soon will require that its early-childhood teachers obtain credentials such as the Child Development Associate certification, or CDA. But for many who aspire to a career in early childhood education, particularly women, barriers abound. Many lack the financial resources to pursue the necessary credentials or degrees. Others require support as an English language learner or caregiving for their own children.

It’s an equity issue that many organizations, including American University’s School of Education, are trying to address. In 2021, AU established a CDA program. Now thanks to a philanthropic commitment from JPMorgan Chase, the program is getting a major boost.

JPMorgan Chase is donating $5 million to Martha’s Table, AU, Trinity Washington University, LIFT DC, and Venture Philanthropy Partners. The funds will be spread across the partners for three years for their efforts to make early childhood education more equitable. The goal of the collaboration is to increase access to education, skills, and training for Black and Latina women.

Below, SOE professor Vivian Vasquez and dean Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy discuss AU’s unique program, Pathways to Early Development and Learning Success, or PEDALS, and funding from JPMorgan Chase. A portion of the grant will support AU’s $500 million comprehensive campaign, Change Can’t Wait. Change Can’t Wait: The Campaign for American University creates transformative educational opportunities, advances research with impact, and builds stronger communities. Through Change Can’t Wait and partnerships such as this, AU aims to improve outcomes and address challenges in the DC region.

Q: How will the funding be used to support PEDALS and thereby advance early childhood education and the lives of professional workers?

VV: The goal of PEDALS is to build a strong workforce of adults who care, teach, nurture and advance children’s development. The aim is to provide students with a seamless articulation of academic pathways across institutions with affordable tuition.

The CDA program at AU lays the groundwork for students to continue their education through the “stackable” education program, which makes it possible for students to transfer credits from the CDA into an associate of arts degree at Trinity Washington University and subsequently into a bachelor of arts degree at AU or Trinity Washington and potentially a master’s of teaching at AU.

Students can complete work experience hours in the early childhood education program at Martha’s Table in the District. Through its excellent programs, Martha's Table has a history of making a positive difference in the lives of children, their families, and their neighbors.

CHM: This is also a significant and bold move for two private higher education institutions committed to DC young people—one, a minority serving institution (Trinity Washington) and the other a research institution (AU). Our institutions’ leaders have committed to ensuring that DC residents have access to high quality education programs. As such, our presidents are committed to making the credentials and degrees affordable for early childhood educators, who typically have lower salaries than other careers that require undergraduate degrees. Our intention is that our graduates will have the financial support to thrive without loans. PEDALS also includes wrap-around support services so that students’ daily lives are manageable. For instance, we will be able to provide them with transportation and childcare vouchers. Currently 33 students are working toward the CDA certification at AU. Over the course of the next three years of the funding, AU and Trinity Washington aim to see 300 women receive the credential.

Q: Why are years 0-5 so critical to a child’s educational, emotional and social development?

VV: Research shows us that young children need ongoing quality early childhood learning opportunities to create spaces for them to mentally, physically and emotionally develop to their full potential. High-quality early childhood settings with properly trained teachers are proven to be one way to ensure that children’s learning needs are supported. Such settings are inequitably accessible to families.

We hope that through our CDA program, we are able to provide affordable, quality, equity-centered education so that teachers in all settings, especially those in the DC area and in communities that have been disadvantaged, are able to complete coursework that will help them to better support the learning needs of young children.

Q: How is a childcare professional with a CDA—or an AA/BA—better equipped to meet those needs?

VV: The CDA credential is the most widely recognized credential in early childhood education and more and more early childhood settings are requiring it (such as DC). The credential offered at AU is the only one of its kind offered in the Greater Washington area that is framed from a culturally responsive and culturally sustaining perspective. Students will develop an understanding for engaging with socially just pedagogies for teaching young children, with an emphasis on teaching Black, Brown, Indigenous, Latinx, and minoritized children. Students will also learn how to nurture the emotional, physical, intellectual, and social development of children from a critical literacy perspective. Completing CDA courses at AU is a key steppingstone on the path of career advancement in early childhood education with further opportunities at Trinity Washington and AU.

Q: How does PEDALS underscore AU’s commitment to partnering with and serving the DC community?

CHM: PEDALS is another important partnership at AU that engages our DC stakeholders. As an anchor institution in the community, AU School of Education has a vision of being a direct resource for DC residents who aspire to become educators. We see PEDALS as another pathway to a career in education.

Q: This partnership will break down barriers to education and entrepreneurial endeavors (owning and operating early childcare centers, for example) for Black and Brown women. Recruitment and outreach to marginalized communities can present challenges. What are the ways you’ll attract potential students?

CHM: First, we are targeting current childcare providers in the city who need the CDA credential. Most of the childcare providers in DC are women of color. Next, we plan to reach out to every corner of the city, across all wards, to find interested residents who desire a career in early childhood education, paying special attention to attracting Black and Brown women and mothers.

Q: How does this initiative intersect with SOE’s high-school dual enrollment program?

CHM: We plan to offer the CDA as an option for dual enrollees (12th graders) interested in an education career. They can enroll in the CDA program while in their senior year or immediately thereafter. We envision the CDA being a part of our Teacher Pipeline Project—again, another pathway to becoming an educator in the District.