Florida Atlantic University bachelor's degree program in early care and education, authorized in fall 2009, is about to graduate its first double-digit class of students.
The degree aims at training professionals and other students in the field of early education, with participants working with children up to age 8.
The degree was created through a joint effort of the Exceptional Student Education and the Curriculum, Culture and Educational Inquiry departments.
"This is also a collaborative effort in the community, and it actually came from a big push from the community for well-trained individuals to work children as young as birth to age 8. There's a need to have high-qualified individuals to serve that purpose," said the advisor for exceptional student education, Sharon Darling.
When the bachelor's degree program came into existence, professionals and students from other majors, such as elementary education, transferred over to this early care field.
"I am an advocate for children, so I believe that they deserve the best, and I know that they are sponges from birth to 8 -- and that we must lay down a good foundation for them," said Jayne Hafer, 56, of Palm Beach County.
Hafer taught at pre-schools for the past 30 years, and came back to FAU to become certified in early care and education. She currently teaches and directs the volunteer pre-kindergarten at her pre-school -- a program that prepares young children for the learning experiences ahead.
Certification is required for programs like VPK. To teach in the summer session, instructors must have a bachelor's degree in early care. Hafer hopes that her new diploma will allow her to participate in next summer's sessions and help the community.
Pre-cognitive and cognitive skills of children are the foundation in early care. Students learn how to communicate effectively with young children and train them on the pre-literacy period of early childhood.
Despite the recession and budget cuts affecting education, the state Department of Education was able to launch the early care education degree.
According to Darling, some classes were offered as "special topics" before the early care program existed, but the transition to offering these courses year-round for a degree wasn't difficult.
At first, the courses had only one section, but due to high demand this semester, the program has expanded availability to two or three sections per class.
Two students graduated on December 2009 – at the end of the semester during which early care was approved. This year, the graduating class has risen to 20.
There are about 100 active majors, with a new wave of students every semester. Despite the program's growth, the number of staff members has remained the same.
"We would like more core faculty members in this program, but because of the budget cuts we have not been able to expand," Darling said.
But the program is still fresh, classes in early care and education only are offered on the Boca Raton campus.