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School district finds creative way to cope with early childhood educator shortage

The new project, launched this year, provides training and course credit for high school students while helping meet the need for educators

Burnaby School District launched a new program this year for high school students in Grades 11 and 12 to receive training, course credit and hands-on experience in a childcare setting. After completing the program, students will receive an early childhood education assistant certificate that will allow them to apply for jobs right after graduating from high school. 

According to Kevin Brandt, director of instruction with the Burnaby School District, the program started operating in September of this year, and there are currently 10 students enrolled in it, eight girls and two boys. Two students are in Grade 11, and eight students are in Grade 12. The aim of the program is to provide high school students with training while helping address the shortage of early childhood educators in Burnaby. 

During the program, high school students take four courses and have a lot of practicum time. They learn about contemporary theories in early childhood education and have to sit for quizzes and other assessments. At the end of the program they will receive credit for four high-school level courses. Embedded in two of those courses is the early childhood education assistant program which culminates in a credential through the early childhood education (ECE) registry, which allows them to work in a childcare setting. After completing the program, the four courses count as credit toward completing the full ECE diploma

“The idea being that right out of high school they can get this training at no cost to them and they would be able to work in a childcare setting,” Brandt said. 

On a visit to several childcare centres at SFU, the Beacon spoke with two of the high school students enrolled in the program. Batoul Hawili, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Ecole Cariboo Hill Secondary School, says she is interested in early childhood psychology. When she heard about Burnaby School District’s new program to provide training and course credit while getting experience working with small children, she signed up right away. 

“I’ve gotten to learn a lot about children and child psychology in this program,” she said. The training involves classroom time where the high school students learn about early childhood education theories, as well as practical training where they volunteer several hours every week at childcare centres. The experience has been both rewarding and challenging. 

“The first thing that had me doing this program was my love for children, learning more about them and interacting with them. Without that I think as much as you might love psychology or children’s psychology, it’s hard to actually work with children if you don’t have that love,” Hawili said. “It is difficult. With all the amazing things it does come with some struggles because you’re dealing with children in the most crucial part of their development. It’s really important to know how to deal with that and how to care for them in the proper way.”  

Grade 12 student Batoul Hawili with children at an SFU childcare centre. Photo: Lubna El Elaimy

Hawili said she has acquired a number of crucial skills through the program. For example, interacting in a work environment taught her a lot about teamwork and professionalism, including how to accept feedback from supervisors to improve her skills. In addition, her academic skills have improved with the in-class assignments and theories. 

For 16-year-old Felipe Quadros, the program has been a way to test the waters and see if teaching young children is what he wants to do in the future. “I took this course because I want to become a teacher later when I grow up, and this could be a really good experience for me to see if this is what I really want to do,” he said. Quadros, who is a Grade 11 student at Burnaby Mountain Secondary, sees another advantage to the program;  “It’s going to go on my resume,” he told the Beacon.

As with Hawili, the program has presented some unexpected challenges and has been an eye-opening experience for Quadros. Overall, he was happy to discover that he has the patience and personality for the job.

“Since my group is 3-5 years old, we get a lot of difficult situations, most of the children at three or four, they don’t really know how to share, so most of the time we have to give them a little reminder. Our goal is not to make it negative, because they’re still learning, so we don’t want them to feel guilty about it,” he said. The supervisors are often the ones to intervene in situations that are beyond the skills and training of the young assistants.   

“If you’re not sure if you want to do this, go seek a volunteering experience, because by this I know that I really want to do this, but I wasn’t sure before,” Quadros said. 

Grade 11 student Felipe Quadros with children in the outdoor playground at the SFU childcare centre. Photo: Lubna El Elaimy

Jacqueline Ewonus, program director of SFU Childcare said the high school students have been doing very well so far. “It’s been great. As adults, we forget how important play is. These young students coming in are not that far away from play, they pick it up really easily and they build relationships really quickly, through that engagement and play with children. It’s authentic as you can see how the connections are going,” she said.  

With growing demand for childcare spaces and educators in Burnaby, as well as a current shortage in staff, high-schoolers who join the program help alleviate some of the pressure on existing educators. “There’s a real recognized need in our community as well as across the province for trained early childhood educators,” Brandt told the Beacon. “We were looking at how we can attract more people to this profession, and train more people for this profession in Burnaby,” he added.  

With only 10 students in the program, however, the staff shortage remains a serious issue. As high school students with other classes and commitments, they can only spend a limited amount of time each week at the childcare centres. 

“As a parent myself, I have two children in childcare. It is a very difficult and stressful process to find childcare for children. It’s a recognized need in the community so we’re working and doing our best to find ways to address that. So this is one of many ways we’re working to support working families in our communities by adding to the employment ranks of our ECE staff,” Brandt said.  

While the students who sign up for the program are interested in working with children, not all of them intend to pursue a career in early childhood education later on. The challenge remains to attract and keep early childhood educators in Burnaby. With rising rents and living costs, and low salaries of early childhood educators, it is hard to get people to commit to this career choice in the long term. According to the Government of Canada’s Job Bank website, the median salary for assistant early childhood educators is $19.96 per hour. According to the Living Wage for Families BC website, a living wage in the Metro Vancouver area is $24.08 as of February 2023. Living costs continue to climb further. In addition, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Burnaby is currently $2,647. On an income of $19.96 an hour, it would be impossible to afford a one-bedroom.   

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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