Credit: LAUP (Los Angeles Universal Preschool)
Children stretch at Los Angeles Universal Preschool.

Los Angeles Universal Preschool, also known as LAUP, launched a new certificate program this month for aspiring early education teachers and others who work with preschoolers that is focused on helping children with disabilities and emotional and behavior challenges.

The LAUP Research and Evaluation division found, after five years of surveying early educators in Los Angeles County about professional development needs, that training to deal with behavioral issues was the most requested.

LAUP started the program as part of its goal to provide support to early child care providers and teachers before they enter the classroom. The program includes a paid practicum at nine child care centers and preschools across Los Angeles. As part of the practicum, participants will work in pairs, 12 hours a week, with children with developmental delays or physical and mental disabilities. They will also work with children who may be dealing with traumatic issues, such as foster and homeless children, or those with parents who are incarcerated.

In California, foster children are three times more likely than their peers to experience developmental challenges such as physical disabilities and difficulty with memory, according to Children Now, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Oakland. In a recent report, the group reported that 46.7 percent of parents and caregivers in California have experienced trauma as children, including abuse and neglect.

Thirty-two participants from six colleges and universities across Los Angeles will be involved in the 16-week certificate program. The majority of participants are students, but many have had professional experience in early childhood education either as former teachers or owners of family child care centers, said Eli Pessar, project manager for the certificate program. The pilot program is funded by the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board and The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation.

The students in the certificate program were required to have at least 12 credits in early childhood education, but they did not have to major in Early Education or Child Development to be considered for the program. Since not all preschool and child care programs in the state require teachers to have bachelor’s degrees, the certificate will help participants navigate the early education workforce and potentially make themselves more marketable to employers. The program will also help students with resume development, presentation skills and classroom experience.

The investment in training is key for early education, especially when it comes to developing quality care for children at all levels, Pessar said. The goal of the program is to prepare aspiring early child care professionals and students in their course of study so by the time they enter the classroom, “they see a lot and are better equipped to handle situations,” he said.

“We hope that this will give more credence to the field and highlight the importance of professionalism in the field,” Pessar said. “We want our teachers to be prepared for it.”

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