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HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College has been awarded two grants worth more than $1 million to continue educating and training early childhood educators and supporting the programs they work for in western Massachusetts.

Both the Career Pathways Grant, for $680,000, and the Strong Start Training and Technical Assistance Grant, for $360,000, come from the Mass. Dept. of Early Education and Care, which licenses public and private childcare programs in the state.

“These grants come at a very important time as childcare programs reopen and adjust to new guidelines instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kimm Quinlan, director of HCC’s Early Childhood Grant Initiatives.

HCC is the lead agent on a six-month Career Pathways Grant that will allow the college to continue its free Childhood Development Associate Plus (CDA-Plus) certificate program. The program was created to help early childhood educators already working in the field attain their national CDA credential or enhance their certification level and is offered at no cost to participants.

Greenfield Community College and Berkshire Community College are HCC’s partners in the western Mass. consortium. The three colleges each have their own CDA-Plus programs and collaborate on implementation and support.

“The $680,000 is a six-month allocation for the three colleges in the consortium,” Quinlan said. “We’re hoping to get an additional $680,000 for the following six months.”

HCC launched its CDA-Plus program in 2019 after an initial, year-long grant of $2 million to the consortium from the EEC. Students who complete the program are awarded a CDA-Plus certificate and can apply the credits they earn toward an associate degree in Early Childhood Education from HCC.

The two-semester course of study includes four, sequential, seven-week courses in subjects such as childhood behavior and development, early childhood programs, and health, safety and nutrition. The grant covers all tuition, fees, and books, and also pays for a $425 CDA credentialing fee, and includes a stipend of about $500 for unexpected costs.

HCC graduated its first class of CDA-Plus students in June. A second group started in January 2020 and will complete their program in November. The new funding will pay for a third class set to begin their studies this month.

All the classes were originally designed as hybrid courses, with both online and face-to-face components, but shifted to completely remote in mid-March due to the pandemic.

“All of our students are supposed to be working in the field, and they all found themselves NOT working in the field very quickly, so it has been quite a transition for them,” Quinlan said. “Some of them have gone back to work. Some of their programs did not reopen. Some of them will be going back to work very soon and there were some whose businesses did continue to operate as emergency childcare facilities for essential workers.”

The second grant, called the Strong Start Training and Technical Assistance Grant, is worth $360,000. An initial award in 2019 established HCC as the EEC’s professional development center for western Massachusetts.

Last year, HCC, working with UMass Boston as the lead agent, offered a series of workshops on and off campus to provide training, coaching and technical assistance to early childhood programs. This time the program was completely revamped due to the pandemic.

“Instead of doing universal trainings, our work this year is focused on supporting programs that are going through the reopening process,” Quinlan said. “So, our focus this year is to help them reopen and then to help them successfully implement the new guidelines related to COVID-19.”

For more information or to enroll, please visit hcc.edu/eec