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Leslie Sevey and Karen Castagno
Rhode Island College is well known for its historical and on-going commitment to educate and train future teachers. As principal investigators (PIs), Dr. Leslie Sevey, assistant professor in Elementary Education and coordinator for the undergraduate program in Early Childhood Education, and Dr. Karen Castagno, professor in Health and Physical Education and former interim dean for Feinstein School of Education and Human Development, received a grant to create the Institute For Early Childhood Teaching and Learning. The institute is a unique collaboration between RIC, the Rhode Island Department of Education, through the EXCEED program for early childhood education and resources, and T.E.A.C.H. ® R.I., which awards scholarships to returning students to develop skills and increase knowledge in early childhood education.
The purpose of the institute is to develop a workforce that meets the educational and practical needs of professionals working in childcare. With that in mind, Dr. Sevey and Dr. Castagno designed the program to be flexible by using a hybrid model of course delivery, which includes on-line and in person classes. Students can take two courses a semester, but only have to be on campus one evening per week. Students can continue in their full-time day jobs and be able to immediately apply what they have learned to their work with children.
“The icing on this program is that these people have so much experience in the field,” said Dr. Sevey. “They’re taking their practical work experience and now they’re layering the theoretical piece, ‘Oh, okay, I’ve always done that but now here’s the theory behind it’ and are really putting a lot of the pieces together.”
Recognizing that many of the students were returning to college after an absence or attending for the first time, wraparound services such as tutoring and academic content navigators from the Learning for Life (L4L) program were built into the Institute’s design. Students also receive TEACH scholarships that are funded through a federal grant, Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenges, through the state of Rhode Island. The financial aid significantly helps to remove financial barriers for those returning to college for this program.
Currently, there are fifteen people in the first cohort. According to Dr. Sevey, although many students came to the program with concerns about their ability to do the coursework, the various wraparound services have made all the difference in boosting their confidence.
Dr. Castagno and Dr. Sevey expressed their appreciation for the Institute’s Director, Dr. Suzan Zoll, who is carrying out the vision for the center and has supported students in their transition and success thus far. They are also excited to see this cohort graduate in a couple of years.
“I am so proud of the students,” said Dr. Castagno. “RIC is contributing to the betterment of the workforce through increased professionalization of those who have committed to teaching and guiding our youngest learners.”