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Students Pioneer the Gateways Early Childhood Credential NLU students earn Gateways Infant/Toddler distinction

InfantToddlerCohortCelebration was in the air recently as a cohort of NLU students, all directors of early childhood centers,  completed a course sequence leading to a valuable Illinois credential.

The state awards the distinction, called the Gateways credentials, as a symbol of professional achievement in the early childhood education field. Earning Gateways credentials will expand employees’ opportunities for employment and advancement.

And as the state of Illinois tries to improve education for children from birth to five, it is moving to standardize and professionalize the early childhood education field. It is increasingly linking the credentials to statewide systems such as child care licensing, subsidies for low income or working families and the statewide quality improvement system.

NLU Adjunct Professor Eileen Canafax taught the university’s first Gateways Infant/Toddler cohort, and Lisa Downey, assistant professor in the Department of Early Childhood Education, directed. The students, all of whom already held bachelor’s degrees, completed a four-course sequence which prepared them with greater professional expertise in the Infant/Toddler area.

The idea for the program began when the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the parent organization of Gateways, approached NLU to pilot a program that would bring together a cohort of post-B.A. students who were interested in receiving their Infant/Toddler credential.  INCCRRA paid the tuition and fees for the four-course cluster. NLU, partnering with the Chicago Public Schools, recruited the students from community-based pre-K programs that were funded by CPS.

In addition to providing the participants with very specific knowledge, skills and experience in working with infants and toddlers, their programs may be eligible to apply for higher levels in the ExceleRate Illinois program, the state’s early childhood quality rating improvement system. This system is linked to child care subsidies for low income working families. Programs can receive more money per child per day, depending upon the level of ExceleRate that they qualify for.

In addition, since most of these NLU program participants are directors of community-based early childhood programs, they now have experience in obtaining the credential, allowing them the ability to better support their staff who wish to pursue credentials.

The cohort started classes in January 2015 and completed them in September.

Michelle Crump of INCCRRA awarded certificates of completion to each student, designating their Gateways certificate at level 5 (undergraduate level) or level 6 (graduate level).

“Our hope is that we produce and support a highly qualified work force of people teaching children when they are at their most vulnerable, during early childhood,” said NLU’s Downey. “Teachers and caregivers of infants and toddlers with advanced degrees and knowledge specific to infant/toddler care and development are better able to support the individual needs of the children and families they serve.”

In addition, she noted, the Gateway Credentials are linked to a proven system of quality improvement that lends itself toward ensuring that the highest quality early care and education is offered to all children, regardless of program type, income, race or other factors

Other cohorts are underway in NLU’s Early Childhood Practice and Early Childhood Administration programs. Downey said NLU would like to host another cohort similar to the Infant/Toddler cohort should state funding become available.

“This was a very exciting project for our team and the students we worked with,” she said.

Another group offsite in the Early Childhood Practice program is being hosted at NLU’s parter El Valor on Chicago’s West side. This group will receive three Gateways Credentials when they are finished–with the potential to pursue a fourth if they are interested in taking two more courses. As a part of that group, NLU is one of two four-year institutions chosen to pilot a newly developed Family Child Care credential . NLU is also offering the Illinois Director Credential. This cohort is being offered in a blended format, online and face to face.

For more information or to ask about earning a Gateways credential at NLU, contact Lisa Downey at lisa.downey@nl.edu.