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Sunflower, college join forces for program
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Monica Gonzalez interacts with Yair Triana during a home visit on behalf of Sunflowers Early Education Center. Gonzalez is pursuing her early intervention education as part of a new collaboration between Sunflower and Barton Community College. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

It all started when Cathy Estes and Cheryl Couch put their heads together. It has ended with a rare opportunity for students who want a career in early education to have more access to academics and hands-on work experience.

Estes is service coordinator at Sunflower’s Early Education Center (EEC) and Couch is instructor/coordinator of early childhood at Barton Community College. The EEC serves infants and toddlers with developmental delays.

College students can now earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate for early intervention, ages birth to 3.

"This is a first for us," Estes said. "It started in January and it is exceeding our high expectations. The program is tailor made for teaching infants and toddlers, thanks to Cheryl Couch, who developed the curriculum.

"Participants are able to work at our center while doing their coursework through the college. The curriculum is designed for learning about home visits and the classroom," Estes added. "The college should be commended for its many efforts; it is a great partner for Sunflower."

In the past, the CDA was only for teaching preschool, ages 3 and older, but Estes also wanted to pursue the infant/toddler track. Simultaneously, Couch saw a need for working students to have access to a scholarship program.

"So, I started investigating and came across a program called ECAAP," Couch recalled, noting the acronym stands for Early Childhood Associate Apprentice Program. "It sounded too good to be true but we have discovered it can be the answer for college students interested in this field.

"It involves 22 hours of education – for free," Couch explained. "But you have to work for a sponsored facility."

This is where the early ed center comes in. The facility, 1312 Patton in Great Bend, has met the requirements for registration of an apprenticeship program with the Kansas Department of Commerce, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor.

"KansasWorks is the head agency for all of this," Couch noted. "They want to get education out to people who work in child care, as well as those on the home-visit track. We are the first community college in Kansas to offer the home-visit track through ECAAP.

"It also is rare for a community college to have a relationship with a special-education facility," Couch added. "And we couldn’t be happier with Sunflower. It is phenomenal. Cathy is willing to be an associate faculty member here and has developed online courses. Her knowledge of the field is tremendous."

Students must have a mentor, follow through on their academic commitment and perform two years of work. There are no other strings attached. The program pays for all books, tuition and fees, and courses are offered online or face-to-face.

Monica Gonzalez is the first in the state to pursue her home-visitor CDA though ECAAP. She is employed by Sunflower as an early intervention specialist while taking her academic courses. Rosa Valezco is doing an internship at Sunflower. When she graduates in May, she will be the first to complete such an internship.

"They are pursuing their educations so they are better able to help the children they work with," Couch said. "This is the only motive for the program. There is a huge difference in training for teachers in birth to 3 and ages 3 to 5. Our programs allow students to focus on the best training for the different age levels, and to pursue their education seamlessly."