Secretary Barbara Cooper of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (ADECE) joined leaders from Troy University, Wallace Community College, and the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to officially sign documents establishing Alabama’s first apprenticeship for Early Childhood Educators on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, at the Coleman Center for Early Learning on the Troy University Dothan Campus, 504 University Dr, Dothan, AL. Immediately after the documents were signed, two students signed their paperwork, making them the first two apprentices.

In full alignment with the goals of the Success Plus plan and Governor Kay Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, this Early Childhood Educator Apprenticeship will increase the quality of care in the early childhood setting, create opportunities to upskill incumbent workers, and articulate coursework seamlessly between the community college and university. The ECE Apprenticeship provides an opportunity to increase the number of highly qualified early childhood educators in the workforce as apprentices engage in on-the-job learning (OJL) with a mentor and complete related technical instruction (RTI) from institutions of higher education. The apprenticeship allows apprentices to complete stackable credentials, a Child Development Associate certification, an associate’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, all while employed with a child care provider.

“This apprenticeship is a step in the right direction towards building the early education workforce pathway,” said Dr. Barbara Cooper, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. “Research tells us 90% of a child’s brain development happens through the first five years. Our state’s youngest learners need well prepared educators in high quality early learning environments to maximize this precious time,” she said.

“The Coleman Center serves as a model center for preparing future teachers while researching and disseminating best practices in early childhood education. Of course, it does so in a caring and loving environment for the children enrolled,” said Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr. “We are pleased Troy University and our partners are forging the future of early childhood education in our state and nation.”

“Wallace Community College-Dothan is so pleased and excited to be a part of this Early Childhood Educator Apprenticeship—the very first in our state,” said Dr. Linda Young, President of Wallace Community College-Dothan. “Like our friends at Troy University, Wallace strives to be an innovator in education and training, and this is one such example of our commitment to trendsetting. We look forward to watching our students complete their apprenticeships, earn their degrees, and become part of the next generation of outstanding educators.”

“The launch of this program represents a major investment of time, effort, and energy from everyone involved because that is what it takes to do something out of the ordinary,” said Josh Laney, Director of the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship. “What we are launching here is the blueprint for a whole new path. We are extremely proud to register this program as a pilot and model that demonstrates feasibility, with the intention to pursue resources in the future,” he said.

This Fall, two apprentices at The Coleman Center for Early Learning will serve as a pilot group. Apprentices will receive direct support from mentors, B-5 coaches, and directors. They will also have guidance within the ECE Apprenticeship Toolkit which was developed by members from ADECE and AOA, the Director of the Coleman Center, and a CHD instructor from WCCD.

There is no cost for apprentices to participate, and they will earn progressive wages while they are learning. To offset the cost of the apprenticeship for the employer, all apprentices will apply for FAFSA, TEACH scholarships, Leadership in Childcare Scholarships, and C3 Scholarships. They will also work with the Business Service Representative at the Dothan Career Center to seek additional funding through WIOA and other grants. If there is any remaining cost due, this will be covered by ADECE and The Coleman Center.

The next steps include expanding the pilot to other Birth to 5 employers and including additional educational partners starting at the high school level.