ST. GEORGE – Individuals interested in obtaining a degree and employment in child care can find support and scholarship opportunities with the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Office of Child Care, which just released $ 4 million in scholarship funds for the Early Education Payback Program.
Qualified students can request reimbursements of up to $ 3,500 for college tuition and fees per semester, according to the Department’s website.
The Office of Child Care Director Rebecca Banner said there is no limit to the number of students to receive aid and that the scholarship would remain available until allotted funds are exhausted.
Child care employers are having difficulty hiring and retaining staff. Banner said the scholarship could help fill that need by offering professional development opportunities and work experience to students interested in working in the field.
The scholarship can also serve as a recruitment tool for employers to hire qualified staff, she said.
“(We) saw a unique opportunity,” Banner said in a recent press release. “This scholarship program gives college students a head start by paying for their education while they earn valuable work experience. Plus, child care employers can offer scholarships as an incentive for hiring and retaining employees. ”
Banner shared a message for those interested in working with children.
“We would encourage you to seek opportunities,” Banner said. “We can help connect you with employers that are looking for good, qualified applicants.”
Additionally, Banner said the program could incentivize individuals to pursue a degree, take courses in early childhood education and increase their skills and the overall quality of Utah employees who with children.
“Anytime you are increasing your skills and you have those credentials, then you are more marketable to employers,” she said. “That may equate to earning a higher wage or a higher salary when you are looking for employment with child care providers.”
The scholarship program will also benefit families looking for child care, Banner said.
“They want to ensure that their children are in a safe environment and that they have high-quality care,” she said. “And increasing the skills and knowledge of our workforce increases the quality of care that a child may receive. And so I think this is really helpful for parents to know that we’re using these fundings to help increase the quality of care in our workforce throughout the state. ”
‘Jump on the opportunity’
Jami Mockaitis is an education coordinator and teacher at the Intermountain St. George Regional Child Development Center who is working toward her master’s degree at Southern Utah University. Mockaitis said she is just three classes away from completing her degree and expects to graduate in December.
“I love education, and so when I heard about this I jumped on board because I was taking classes and I had the goal of getting my master’s at the back of my mind,” she said. “And when this opportunity came up, I had to jump on it because when else can you get your master’s for basically free?”
Mockaitis is working on a master’s thesis on social and emotional learning, which she said has given her insight into what children have gone through during the pandemic. She’s noticed they’ve had heightened emotions, so she and her co-teachers are learning to help their students understand and process their emotions, and better interact with their peers.
She said being able to continue her education has made her a better teacher, adding that she understands their experiences more clearly and is better able to create a safe atmosphere for them to learn.
For those interested in entering the field for the first time she said that working with young children is tough but rewarding.
“It’s such a great experience because you still get the ‘aha!’ moments and they’re so cute and they’re full of energy and they’re sponges, ”she said. “They are just ready to take in all the information that you can give them.”
Gaining education and experience will benefit teachers as well as students, Mockaitis said.
“So anytime that you can jump on the opportunity to get more education and get it paid back – That’s the best thing that one could ever ask for,” she said.
Who is eligible?
According to the Department’s directions, the scholarship is available to students who work at least 15 hours a week at a Workforce Services- eligible, licensed child care program in Utah and major in child development, early childhood education, elementary education and early childhood special education . Students must receive a grade of C-minus or higher to be reimbursed.
Eligible workplaces include child care providers wo are licensed and regulated in Utah and approved by the Department, Banner said. Some programs, such as Head Start, are classified as exempt but are approved by the Department based on other criteria. Their employees are still eligible for the scholarship.
Banner said she hopes the Department can match students who seek work opportunities while in school with employers who need qualified staff.
“I hope we have students that participate and also I hope we have child care staff and employees that maybe go back to school and seek additional learning and education to help support the work that they’re doing,” she said.
Additional scholarship opportunities
The department offers additional professional development opportunities for child care workers, including scholarships to earn a degree or take classes, Banner said.
The Career Ladder Approved College Course Scholarship program offers reimbursement for up to 12 credit hours per semester for approved courses, according to the Department’s website. And the Conference Registration Scholarship will reimburse up to $ 500 to those attending an eligible early childhood conference.
“And so I would encourage everyone to go onto our website and look at all the scholarship opportunities that we have available, because there may be something that would fit your needs more than the Early Education Payback Program,” Banner said.
To learn more about scholarship opportunities from the Utah Department of Workforce Services Office of Child Care, visit their website.
Families looking for child care options can visit the Department of Workforce Services child care website to learn more about options available in their area.
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