Learning while teaching tots

Child care: A community college program helps students with disabilities acquire skills to work in day care settings.

November 30, 2003|By Nancy Knisley | Nancy Knisley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A year-old program at the Community College of Baltimore County's Dundalk campus is helping to address two chronic needs: career opportunities for adults with disabilities and quality child care.

The Single Step Childcare Program, which began in August last year, prepares adults with disabilities to work as child care providers. The program is designed "for adults who are capable of working successfully with young children but who need to prepare in a setting with their special learning style in mind," said Melanie Hood-Wilson, program coordinator.

The child care program is an offshoot of CCBC-Dundalk's 30-year-old Single Step transition program that provides basic reading, math and writing remediation for students with disabilities, and also teaches life, social and prevocational skills.

Hood-Wilson said the noncredit transition program helps to prepare students for the workplace or for a community college or four-year college program. It offers a low student-teacher ratio, instructional assistance for every class and programs tailored toward each student's goals and abilities.

Students in the Single Step program have ranged in age from 17 to 30, she said, and have "diverse emotional, developmental, learning or physical disabilities," including mild autism or mental retardation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and hearing impairments.

The child care program was created because "a large number of young people with disabilities expressed an interest in working in child care," Hood-Wilson said.

Students who successfully complete the two-semester program's coursework and an internship receive a Maryland state 90-hour child care certificate.

Although CCBC has a separate, for-credit program that also leads to a 90-hour child care certificate, some adults with learning challenges need a program like Single Step that provides a different learning approach, Hood-Wilson said.

"We wanted to provide the same quality program, but one tailored for students with special learning needs," she said.

Seven students have completed the child care program; five are employed in Baltimore area day care centers.

If there's a role model for other students in the Single Step program, it could be Julie Mitchell, a 20-year-old from Perry Hall who has a learning disability and hearing impairment.

Mitchell, who had completed the transition program, was among the first to enroll in the child care program. After completing it, she received two job offers and is employed at the Perry Hall Learning Center.

Although the Single Step child care program is primarily designed to prepare its students to be classroom aides and assistants, Mitchell has been promoted from classroom assistant to senior staff toddler teacher.

"Julie is a phenomenal young woman - responsible, mature, a vocal leader among her peers from the moment she started in Single Step," Hood-Wilson said.

When the Single Step staff heard of Mitchell's promotion, they thought, "If anyone could rise to the occasion, it was Julie," the program coordinator said. And, when they saw the "fantastic" evaluation Mitchell received for her work at the Learning Center, "she made us feel what we are doing was more worthwhile than we already did."

Speaking at the recent Single Step Career Day, Mitchell said, "I love my kids. I am proud of myself, and my family and friends are proud of me, too. I worked hard to be where I am today. The children, they all love me. ... I would like to recommend this program to all those who like to work with children."

One of the students who would like to follow in Mitchell's steps is Kayla Armold, 20, one of two currently in the child care program. Armold, a Dundalk resident, said she has a learning disability that makes math, reading and spelling difficult for her, in addition to a speech impairment.

Armold started in the transition program last year, and this year decided to enroll in the child care program while continuing in the transition program. "My goal is to get a job and live independently," she said. "I would like to work in some kind of day care center."

This semester, Armold is interning at the Peter Rabbit Day Nursery in Dundalk. "I like it at the day care," she said. "All the kids like me. That's good. I was afraid they weren't going to like me. And I like them."

Elizabeth Seegard, the director of Peter Rabbit and a teacher in the Single Step child care program, said that Armold "has done an excellent job so far. She loves to read stories with [the children]. Socially, she helps them get along with one another. She helps with hugs, in the bathroom, on the swings. She helps students with just about everything."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.