Redmond Graduates Celebrate Milestone in Early Learning
Late night studying is part of the daily routine for Maria Martinez of Bend. But she’s not your typical college student. The mother of three, who immigrated from Mexico after middle school, also works a full-time job as a child care provider.
This summer, Martinez and about a dozen other graduates celebrated earning a certificate in early learning through a program at Central Oregon Community College in Redmond. Speaking through an interpreter, she talks about some of the challenges and highlights of this milestone.
“The homework was difficult with the children,” Martinez said. “I had to do it at night when all the kids went to sleep.”
Martinez doesn’t drive so attending class required finding rides to Redmond or asking her husband to work around his full-time schedule to get her there. She continues to work toward her goal of earning a GED and eventually an associate degree. These type of challenges are not uncommon for those pursuing a career in early learning. Amy Howell, program director and professor of early childhood education at COCC said that’s why they built a program with students like Martinez in mind.
“For many of our students, the balance between family, community, and work-related commitments pose challenges, more than barriers,” Howell said. “Rather than ask students to move these or eliminate the commitments and challenges, we’re trying to build success around them—to meet our students where they need us the most.”
The college offers classes in Spanish and on weekends to make earning credits possible for those working full-time.
Martinez, who works at a local family child care provider, discovered as part of her curriculum when toddlers play with blocks or fill containers, there is meaning behind it.
“She appreciates the variety of working with babies and preschoolers,” said Martinez through an interpreter. “The certificate has helped her recognize how they ‘learn through play.’”
Due to a number of factors, more and more children are being cared for outside of their families, and communities are struggling to keep up with demand. According to a 2019 Oregon State University study, 36 counties in Oregon are considered “child care deserts” for infants and toddlers. In Deschutes County, where Martinez is based, only 20 percent of children under five have access to regulated care.
Oregon’s Early Learning System Director Miriam Calderon said if more support isn’t given to people pursuing educational paths like Martinez, the supply of quality care will never keep pace with the need.
“When I travel around the state, the problem I hear in every community is finding qualified professionals to serve more children,” Calderon said. “More than a quarter of the early childhood workforce leaves the field annually, in part because of low wages. We have an imperative to grow and retain a quality workforce in the field.”
Howell believes teaching and learning are both rooted in relationships and honoring that foundation has made their program a success.
“Each of our students has a story to share,” she said. “In each story, you’ll hear about challenges related to resources—whether it’s financial, social, emotional or physical. You’ll hear about support systems, or lack thereof. You’ll hear about pride and the joy that comes from hard work and perseverance. Mostly, I hope, you’ll hear about their commitment to continuing their work so that they can be the best educator to children in their care.”