University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Diverse center preps early educators

UVM student at Trinity Children's Center
Kids and their UVM student teachers thrive in the rich learning environment at Trinity Children’s Center. Photograph by Sally McCay

THE GREEN / EDUCATION

Diverse center
preps early educators

When Maureen Danielczyk started working at Trinity Children’s Center thirty-seven years ago, the mission of the founding Sisters of Mercy was to help single mothers finish school by caring for their children. Though that commitment remains, the needs of today’s children and their families have changed to reflect the increasingly diverse population of the local community.

“This is a unique place because we integrate children with special needs with children from refugee families, homeless children, and children of UVM faculty and staff,” says Danielczyk, director of Trinity Children’s Center for more than twenty-five years.

The growing diversity of TCC, a non-profit early childhood facility located on UVM’s Trinity Campus, has created an ideal learning lab for students in the university’s Early Childhood Special Education Program. It provides students the opportunity to teach children with a wide variety of needs and cultural backgrounds and also interact with professionals from the many local support agencies that coordinate with TCC.

Jennifer Hurley, assistant professor of education and program coordinator for the early childhood special education program, recently landed a $1.25 million grant from the Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs that will be used to pay for the tuition of seniors in the program who are interning at TCC. Susan Ryan, director of the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion, was also an author on the grant.

“There’s no way we would have gotten this grant without the strong relationship we have with Trinity Children’s Center and the agencies they work with,” says Hurley, adding that TCC earned the rare National Association for the Education of Young Children accreditation and was awarded the highest possible five-star rating by the State of Vermont. “It’s an ideal setting to prepare scholars to work with all of Vermont’s children, including children with disabilities experiencing the additional challenges of being English language learners, and experiencing poverty or homelessness.”

The grant will also help address a critical shortage of early childhood special education teachers. Over the last decade the demand for early childhood special education teachers has increased from about 13,000 to more than 27,000, but the number of qualified graduates is yet to keep pace. Students receiving free tuition from the federal grant are required to work as an early childhood special educator anywhere in the country for one year for every semester of tuition they receive.

 “You can read all about teaching skills like pro-social conflict resolution and emotionally supportive conflict resolution, but until you apply it in the classroom it’s hard to see how it works in practice,” says Kate Evans, a 2012 graduate of the UVM Honors College and one of eight UVM alumni working at TCC. “By working here as an undergraduate I got a good feel for the day-to-day routine of being a teacher. It made the transition to working as a full-time teacher much easier after graduation. I would have been well prepared for wherever I got a job.”

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