By Andrew Edwards
Sarah Bazhad found it difficult to pay for school dispite working full time. It is a position common of workers in her field of early childhood education. However, thanks to a host of new scholarships available to childcare workers in Whatcom County, Bahzad and others like her will be able to attend either Whatcom Community College or Skagit Valley College while continuing their line of work.
After hearing about the Northwest Corner of Professionalism scholarship through her work, Bahzad applied and was accepted into Whatcom.
“It was really simple, I just had to answer a few questions,” Bahzad said, adding that she also had to discuss her career goals with Sally Holloway, Whatcom’s director of Early Childhood Education.
“What’s happened in our state is the stars are really starting to align,” Holloway said. Washington has been selected to receive $80 million over a four year period to improve early childhood and K-12 education as part of the federal Race to the Top program, she said, and the money allocated to Whatcom is an important portion of that sum.
Holloway has been chosen to lead four statewide projects, ranging from scholarships for childcare workers to writing new standards for childcare certification in Washington, representing $400,000 in federal grants.
“I think it is a mark for Whatcom that we received the opportunity to facilitate it at a key time,” Holloway said. “The college has really supported me as a coordinator to participate at the state level.”
Two of the projects currently being implemented by Whatcom provide scholarships for current childcare workers to attend community colleges to receive additional training in early childhood education. One such project currently funds 28 students at Whatcom and 26 students at Skagit while another is still in development. The recipients are typically people working 40-plus hours a week who receive minimum wage and would be otherwise unable to pay for college, Holloway said.
Holloway said that childcare tends to be an underpaid, undereducated and underappreciated profession despite its importance for both children’s early development and allowing parents to be productive members of the workforce. She said that as more and more parents spend more time away from home, the need for childcare only increases over time. “The entire economy would collapse without childcare,” she said.
Becoming a licensed childcare provider in Washington state only requires 20 hours of training, said Holloway. “The people that cut your hair and park your car have more training,” she said.
Two other programs assigned to Whatcom will aim to change this fact, Holloway said, by writing new, more extensive standards for childcare licensing, as well as the curriculum for the training courses. “All four of the projects work towards common goals,” she said.
“It’s all about providing quality care for young children,” Holloway said. “We do that by improving the skill levels and the competencies of those caring for them at the earliest years.”
Bahzad said that her experience with the scholarship at Whatcom has helped her bring “what I’m learning in school to my classroom. I would say it was a really great experience.”