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State Senator Judy Schwank announced the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services awarded a $100,000 grant to United Way of Berks County in support of efforts centered on early learning and literacy.

Specifically, the grant will support the expansion of The Early Child Care Provider Training and Incentive Program, which is designed and implemented as a 3-year pilot program to enhance early childhood education and curriculum support; focus on kindergarten readiness and reduce turnover of the trained workers. The program includes a monitoring component to measure curriculum use in the participating centers. The program is a collaboration between United Way, RACC and several area childcare centers. Additionally, Brad and Barbara Hall, longtime United Way and Ready.Set.READ! supporters, personally sponsored the program.

“Access to quality affordable day care and early childhood education is essential to the intellectual and social development of our children in our inner cities and in rural areas. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for families to find these opportunities for their kids because of the high turnover rate among the staff of early childhood education centers,” said Schwank.

Nationally, the average annual turnover rate for childcare staff is noted as 30 – 40%. Local childcare centers share they face significant challenges with employee retention.

“This grant will support United Way’s efforts to train and incentivize early childhood education workers to remain in the field so that they can help guide young children on their first steps to educational success. Those who are responsible for caring for our children need the best training we can offer and should be compensated fairly. I’m thrilled to have advocated for the approval of this state investment in such a critical effort.” Schwank added.

“We recognize reaching children at an early age is critical to their foundation for learning and literacy. As part of the Ready.Set.READ! initiative managed by United Way, we work with childcare centers in Reading to support curriculum for developing literacy skills. We are grateful to Senator Schwank for her commitment to early learning and guiding the grant process, which will strengthen the impact of this work,” shared Tammy White, President, United Way of Berks County.

The inaugural program launched last year and consisted of candidates from Norma de Hoyas’ Daycare 2, Second Street Learning Center and the YMCA Childcare who enrolled at RACC to obtain their Child Development Associate Credential (CDA), based on a national set of competency standards. Candidates attended three, 8-week evening courses during the 2017-18 term and earned three credits per course, which can be used towards an Associate degree. Last month, 10 candidates completed the pilot program.

Ana Moya, CDA graduate and Infant/Toddler Supervisor at Norma de Hoyas’ Daycare 2, valued the opportunity. “It’s an amazing program. I gained new knowledge and tools to teach and lead our students. I’m proud to be a part of this program; it has given me more confidence to further my education.”

CDA graduate Chayanne Morales, a teacher assistant at Second Street Learning Center, described the experience as inspiring. “I’m thankful to be a part of this program; it has helped me move towards other career goals in the education field.”

The program will be offered to cohort of candidates for this academic year, with another cohort participating the following year.

The CDA program is a great example of a community collaboration, noted Dr. Yamil Sanchez Rivera, United Way’s Senior Vice President of Community Impact. “We joined a group of committed partners at the table to plan and implement this work, with everyone focused on the goal of helping childcare centers retain a high-quality and stable workforce to make sure our community’s kids reap the benefits.”

“Early learning is an issue that impacts our entire community. With Senator Schwank’s leadership, coupled with the partners leading this collaboration, we’re making one of the most important investments that can be made,” added White.