ELK RUN HEIGHTS — Jasmine Brott’s homemade flash cards were barely holding the attention of the 3-year-olds gathered around a table at the Elk Run Preschool.
The children chattered and one boy even wandered away as the West High School junior reviewed the words smooth, pulp and scoop — all of which were in the story about pumpkins she read earlier. But when Brott pulled the pre-cut top off the pumpkin sitting on the table nearby, the kids were suddenly interested.
“Are you guys ready for the fun part? Are you ready to scoop the pulp out?” she asked, pulling out a large spoon.
Brott guided the children as they dug into the pumpkin’s interior, bringing up stringy pulp and seeds. She encouraged them to touch the material and see how it felt.
She and her classmates in Waterloo Community Schools’ early childhood education program were teaching their first mini-lesson to the preschoolers Thursday. The students will prepare other lessons as they continue through the program. Eventually, the high schoolers can get their teaching methods evaluated as part of the testing for the childhood development associate credential.
The CDA, being offered to district students for the first time this year, is a national credential for early childhood educators. It’s one of the credentials or certifications students are earning through classes in Waterloo Schools’ nine career and technical education programs.
“We require all of our programs to have at least two certifications, if not more, at some point within the next year,” said Jeff Frost, Waterloo Schools’ executive director of professional education. The idea is to learn skills that will be useful or necessary in the career areas they are exploring. They are another component offered beyond the concurrent credit that students receive in the classes.
“It really helps to differentiate them from other students,” said Frost, including those who are also earning community college credit during high school. Certifications may offer an advantage for higher-paying jobs and scholarships. In some cases, the credential is all they need for certain positions, although further training or a college degree could build on the skills they’ve obtained.
In the early childhood education program, three 90-minute classes are being offered this semester with a total of five planned for the year. Students learn about topics like health, safety, nutrition and curriculum for preschoolers. Along with the class time, they spend at least two days a week working with the children in their rooms.
That is key to earning the CDA, administered by the Council on Professional Recognition. Students need 120 hours of class time and 420 hours in the classroom working with children to qualify for the test. And before taking it, a professional development specialists will evaluate the students as they teach a mini-lesson.
“The certificate itself will be portable and we have all the tools in Waterloo Schools to offer it,” said Charletta Sudduth, coordinator for early childhood education in the district. She and Jane Frost are teachers in the high school program, which currently has 15 students.
“It’s a lot of time put into it, but it seems worth it,” Adriana Michaels, a West High sophomore and another one of the program’s students, said about the CDA.
“Teaching is something I definitely want to go into,” she said, working with young children, preferably in a daycare, preschool or kindergarten setting. “I want to get a teacher’s degree no matter what, because I want to be open to all fields.”
Ethan Sliger, a home schooled student in his senior year, is enrolled in all three Elk Run early childhood classes. Since he is at the preschool all day, Sudduth hopes he will qualify to take the CDA test before the school year ends. He enrolled in the program with the idea of becoming an elementary school teacher, but the experience so far is causing him to consider working with even younger children.
“It’s something I’m really interested in doing, because I’m interested in working with kids,” said Sliger. “It’s something I would really enjoy.”
The CDA will help him get a job in the field before finishing college. “It would be ideal to have that job while taking classes, then get an associate’s degree and maybe a bachelor’s,” he said.
Other career pathways have also put in place credentials that students can earn. Those programs are based at the Waterloo Career Center on the Central Middle School campus.
Skilled trades classes in sustainable construction and advanced manufacturing — as well as plumbing and electrical programs beginning next fall — start by earning a Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification because of the potential danger inherent in those fields. After that, they will earn certifications on six precision measuring modules administered by the Coalition of Certification Centers. Beginning next year, they will also be required to get certified in adult cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and first aid.
Other certifications are also available, including in computer numerical control machining for advanced manufacturing students and concrete for sustainable construction students. Officials are hoping to have a masonry certification in place for second semester.
Students in information technology—networking can test for A-Plus and Cisco certifications. The IT—web and mobile design program is working towards Microsoft technology associate certification. The digital graphics program hopes to eventually offer the Adobe certified expert, or ACE certification.
The culinary arts programs at East and West high schools, a portion of which is moving to the career center next fall, will also offer certifications through the ProStart curriculum used in classes.
Students in the career center’s nursing program earn the certified nursing assistant, or CNA, credential in one of their classes. “The class is composed of three different things — lecture, lab skills and clinical (at a nursing home),” said Doreen Mingo, one two teachers in the program. Students also earn CPR and mandatory reporter certifications along with patient confidentiality training.
Cedar Falls High School also offers a career program. The Center for Advanced Professional Studies generally doesn’t focus on certifications, but its new medical strand meeting at Allen College includes several. While students don’t earn the CNA, they do get training in patient confidentiality as well as certifications in CPR and basic life support for health care providers.
The CNA is required for some nursing home jobs and is one of the certifications required to become a nurse. East High School senior Abby Graham is enrolled in the Waterloo Career Center’s nursing program and has earned her CNA. That enabled her to get a job at NorthCrest Specialty Care about a month ago.
After graduating, she wants to be trained as a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse and earn a bachelor’s degree. Graham envisions working in settings like a clinic, hospital or neonatal intensive care unit. At some point, she may be interested in earning a master’s degree in nursing.
Arial Campbell, Gabrielle Wrage and Adric Brown are all West High graduates who went through the nursing program. Campbell and Wrage are working at nursing homes and enrolled in the pre-nursing program at Hawkeye Community College.
Brown is a freshman pre-med student at Wartburg College. He hasn’t worked at a nursing home, but believes the CNA credential will be helpful in his new job as an emergency department technician at Covenant Medical Center.
Mingo and Aaisha Flint, the program’s other instructor, said the certification teaches students how to get comfortable around and develop a rapport with patients. Added Flint, “I think they learn to become more compassionate about the nursing field, the medical field and it definitely matures them.”
Jeff Frost said Waterloo Schools is working towards the goal of offering four semesters of classes in each of its career and technical education programs. An option for the final semester would be a quality pre-apprenticeship to put students in a position at a business to receive on-the-job training. “They would actually be a paid apprentice and, in some cases, they would get hired right out of that,” he said.
The district is working on the plan with Hawkeye, which recently received $10,000 in state funding through Iowa Workforce Development to create pre-apprenticeship programs. College officials expect to work on setting up programs at other high school outreach centers in Independence and Grundy County.
Another recipient of the state grant funds was Waverly-Shell Rock Community Schools, where Bryan Benham teaches college-level machining and welding classes plus a project-based capstone class called Go-Hawk Manufacturing. Those students will also qualify for one of the 30-hour pre-apprenticeship opportunities. The $10,000 in state grant funds, which are renewable for five years, would be used to provide a stipend for students.
“What a quality pre-apprenticeship does for my students is count the hours they are in my classes toward the required apprenticeship hours and gets them done sooner,” he said. “They can explore the field without a commitment and see if it might be in their future plans.”