The Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation announces today that 52 students have been selected as Early Childhood Fellows who will receive full scholarships to earn their bachelor’s degree in early education from UMass Boston. The Fellows are a mix of experienced early educators working in family child care, early care and education centers, out-of-school time programs, and preschool settings as well as those who are new to the field. The Fellowship is funded with a $2 million grant from the city of Boston to support the recovery and expansion of the early childhood workforce from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the Fellows have committed to work in the city of Boston as early educators for at least three years after graduating with their degree.
“The depth of experience, talent, and passion for early education in our cohort of Early Childhood Fellows is impressive,” said Marcelo Juica, PhD, Director of Programs of the Early Ed Leadership Institute and Co-Director of the Early Childhood Fellowship. “Many of our Fellows are already contributing to the field of early care and education in Boston, but this Fellowship will expand their capacity to lead while also creating a powerful pipeline of trained educators to grow the early childhood education workforce in the city.”
The Fellows were formally welcomed to UMass Boston during a luncheon reception held on campus June 24. Speakers included Juica, Deb Johnston-Malden, M.S., Coordinator of the Metro Boston Professional Development Center at the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation and Co-Director of the Early Childhood Fellowship program, Anne Douglass, PhD, founder and executive director of the Early Ed Leadership Institute and a professor of early education at UMass Boston, Kristin McSwain, a Senior Advisor to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Director of the City’s Office of Early Childhood, and Kelly Hart Meehan, PhD, Regional Director, Metro Boston, Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.
“We have long worked with the early educator community and the city of Boston on early educator leadership development, quality improvement, and program evaluation, and we are thrilled to expand these partnerships with the Early Education Fellowship,” said Douglass. “The Fellowship tackles many of the obstacles faced by early educators seeking their bachelor’s degree. The most significant of these are the financial costs of an undergraduate degree. But we also address the needs of students who must balance academic demands with professional and family responsibilities.”
“I have four young children, the youngest is two,” said Fellow Danielle Grant, noting that parental responsibilities have made it difficult to focus on finishing her degree. “Coming back to school has been demanding, and not knowing how to navigate all of the options has been difficult. So when this opportunity came about, it was perfect for me.”
UMass Boston’s Bachelor of Arts program in early education serves approximately 300 students overall and graduates approximately 70 each year. Courses are offered during the day, at night, and online, making the degree program accessible to experienced educators already working in the field who are seeking to upskill as teachers and leaders as well as those who are new to the profession. The program is intentionally structured to be welcoming to those who have historically faced barriers to higher education such as immigrants and first-generation students. Programmatic supports, such as dedicated academic and writing tutors, and relational supports, such as mentor and cohort connections are built into the program. As a result, UMass Boston’s education BA program has the most racially and linguistically diverse student body of any institution of higher education in Massachusetts and two-thirds of UMass Boston’s early education graduates are BIPOC women.
“When I learned about the Fellowship, I thought, ‘They’re talking about me!,’” said Early Childhood Fellow Shataura Driver, an infant-toddler teacher with 10 years of experience. “I’ve been in the classroom for a long time, but I really want to make an impact in the field. I want to use my education to find ways where you can really make a difference at a higher level. I’m really looking forward to learning more and finding new opportunities.”
“All of the students in our early education BA program receive intensive training in entrepreneurial leadership through our Leading for Change curriculum where they learn to lead for change and quality improvement in their practice, program, or in the field,” said Johnston-Malden. “In this way, experienced teachers who are already working in the field complete our program equipped to mentor new educators and share knowledge with their colleagues that lead to program quality improvement.”
Recruitment of Fellowship applicants focused on students who already hold an associate’s degree or had completed at least 60 undergraduate credits and would likely be able to complete their bachelor’s degree within three years. During the application period, 132 early educators attended an information session to learn about the Early Childhood Fellowship and 71 were interviewed. In the end, 52 students were selected.
The Fellowship is also open to students interested in pursuing their Master’s degree in early education at UMass Boston, and a second cohort will be recruited next year.
“When they graduate, our Fellows will be prepared to immediately contribute and lead in diverse settings including family child care, center-based, Head Start, and PreK programs,” Johnston-Malden added. “We expect that the Early Childhood Fellowship will increase the professionalization of the early education workforce in the city of Boston and have a positive, multigenerational impact on the lives of children and their families.”