Archived Voice Articles

Ed department launches early childhood program

By Sally Jongsma

Across the country, increasing numbers of Christian schools are adding pre-kindergarten programs. Over the past several years the Dordt College education department has received requests for graduates with backgrounds in early childhood education—people to teach in day care centers, pre-schools, and kindergartens. As a result, the department is now adding an early childhood endorsement to its program.

Gwen Marra

Gwen Marra

The endorsement began last spring with the first offering of the class, Introduction to Early Childhood Education. This semester, Organization and Administration of Early Childhood Programs is being offered.

Gwen Marra, the early childhood instructor in the department expects the need for early childhood teachers and the demand for graduates in this area to continue to grow. Marra, a 1990 graduate and a 2004 graduate of the master’s program, has owned and operated her own pre-school for eleven years and currently teaches kindergarten at Sioux Center Christian School. She says that moves by states like Iowa, Georgia, Illinois, and Indiana, to name a few, to offer assistance to families with child care costs will drive this need. In Iowa for example, a family of six making under $60,000 receives free pre-school tuition and a family making up to $80,000 gets half of their tuition reimbursed.

At the same time, states are requiring more of early childhood care providers. The list of requirements has grown and annual inspections are now routine. The demand for trained teachers and caregivers is growing.

There are, perhaps, even more pressing reasons why the department is offering the early childhood endorsement.

Dordt College has always stressed the importance of training teachers from out of a Christian worldview. But those who work in early childhood organizations have had to get their specific training at non-Christian institutions.

“Your leadership philosophy as well as the teaching strategies you use are shaped by your worldview,” says Marra. She emphasizes a servant leader model as she gives her students the knowledge they need to set up and operate a pre-school. In fact, one of the projects her students will work on this semester is simulating the setting up of a pre-school, working with budgets, design of the facility, assessment and evaluation of the program, staff job descriptions, and orientation plans

The early childhood endorsement will also be valuable for elementary teachers, the department believes.

“It gives students a better understanding of how children develop and how to meet the needs of very young children,” says Marra. And it gives elementary teachers more job options. The endorsement allows graduates who want to work with very young children a broader range of “grade” levels to consider.

Marra is excited about continuing to develop the courses and the endorsement. Her goal is to make the learning her students do as real and relevant as she can. Her years of experience and the work she did in her master’s program give her the tools to do just that.