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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

UH adds education degree

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

A new bachelor's degree program in early childhood education at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu could greatly expand the pool of potential employees for Head Start and preschool programs across the state. It will also mean a higher quality of education for Hawai'i's keiki, early childhood education advocates say.

"Research shows that a professional with a (bachelor's) degree in early childhood really does her profession well in the classroom," said Liz Chun, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance.

Chun hopes the degree program will produce more well-qualified teachers for preschool classrooms, but she also hopes it will help with the "huge teacher shortage" in preschools across the state. "We've got to be really clear that there is a crisis in locating early childhood teachers," she said.

The UH-West O'ahu program that begins this fall will be the public university system's first offering of a four-year degree in early childhood education.

The program solves a major problem local childhood professionals have had access to education, said Joseph Mobley, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs at UH-West O'ahu. Since the announcement of the program last month, dozens of inquiries have been pouring in to the college, Mobley said.

Chaminade University of Ho-nolulu began offering a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education in fall 2004 and in December graduated its first four degree candidates, said Skip Lee, director of accelerated programs at Chaminade. There are 45 students enrolled in the bachelor's degree program at the local private university, Lee said.

Study after study has proven that teachers well trained in early childhood education and development benefit young children more than preschool teachers who lack training, Chun said.

Teachers who come out of an early childhood degree program are able to contribute to the social, emotional and intellectual development of young children, Chun said. They are able to facilitate children's ability to learn to function in groups, develop good communication skills and be better prepared for social relationships.

Also, teachers who come out of degree programs often have the most valuable piece of knowledge in the field the understanding of childhood development, said professor Stephanie Feeney, an early childhood specialist at UH-Manoa.

"The finest teachers really know a great deal about development and use that as a lens for what they are doing," Feeney said. She said these teachers know how to relate to children and "create quality experiences" that help them grow emotionally and intellectually.

The new UH-West O'ahu program comes as Congress is considering requiring that 50 percent of teachers in the federally funded Head Start program hold a bachelor's degree by 2010.

Terry Lock is the dean of Early Childhood Education at Kamehameha Schools, where since the 1980s preschool teachers have been required to hold a bachelor's degree. Lock said a bachelor's degree requirement for the federally funded Head Start programs would make it harder to recruit teachers.

Kamehameha has been successful in recruiting quality teachers because it has attempted to align its pay scale to that of K-12 grade teachers, Lock said. But "with this West O'ahu degree there is at least a possibility of teachers staying on island and being able to access the training," she said.

Noelle Granato, Head Start director of Parents and Children Together, a nonprofit family service agency, said recruiting teachers with a bachelor's degree can be difficult because of the pay and because of the lack of academic programs locally.

"The difficulty other programs would have or we would have if we lose these teachers is that there are only certain bachelor's degrees we can take and there is only one university (in Hawai'i) that has a bachelor's degree in early childhood education," she said.

Granato said the UH-West O'ahu degree program will help in locally producing qualified teachers.

"Most of our teachers, including myself, received our bachelor's degree on the Mainland," Granato said.

When the program begins in the fall term, Mobley, UH-West O'ahu's interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, expects about 20 students to be enrolled, with hundreds of others taking lower-division courses at Maui, Kaua'i, Hawai'i and Honolulu Community Colleges. Students at community colleges are expected to transfer to UH-West O'ahu to finish their upper-division courses to earn their bachelor of arts degree in social science with a concentration in early childhood education, Mobley said.

By the program's third year, Mobley estimates enrollment will be 60 to 80 students.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Chaminade University began offering a bachelor's degree in non-Montessori Early Childhood Education in fall 2004. Before that, it offered a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education with a Montessori emphasis.