Affordable, accessible training for educators teaching 4-year-olds

Gary Huff, a professor at Santa Monica College, leads a class for early childhood educators.
Gary Huff, a professor at Santa Monica College, leads a class for early childhood educators.
Amy Gaskin/SMC

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Since California schools began offering a new grade for four-year-olds in 2012, more programs have popped up to train educators working with these younger students. Now, Santa Monica College will become the first community college in the state to offer a Transitional Kindergarten certificate program.

"It really is the most affordable, accessible and, I think, high-quality professional development pathway for TK teachers that’s available right now in California," said Gary Huff, professor of early childhood education at Santa Monica College.

The grade was created after a 2010 law changed kindergarten age cutoff dates and the state is phasing in new training requirements for TK teachers.

By August 2020, TK teachers who were assigned to classrooms in 2015 must earn at least 24 units of early childhood education or childhood development classes (or an equivalent amount of classroom experience, or a child development permit). So many educators already in the classroom are heading back to school.

"It’s really challenging to work a full-time job and then try get to a college campus," said Huff. "And LA traffic? I mean – come on – that’s a nightmare, right?"  

This new certificate program is striving for accessibility. All of the 8-week courses will be offered online. And, at just $46/unit, they are just are a fraction of the cost of similar programs offered at state and private schools like University of La Verne, University of Riverside, Extension and Loyola Marymount University

Credentialed teachers need the training because four-year-olds and five-year-olds have different developmental needs, and TK offers a different educational experience than kindergarten.

"More time in a developmentally-focused environment that really centers around play and focuses on social and emotional growth," said Huff, "is what helps them to be successful for kindergarten."

The demand is high and classes for the fall have already filled up. More will open for winter and spring sessions. Courses include, "Principles & Practices of Teaching Young Children," "Assessment in TK & Kindergarten" and "Strategies for Working with Challenging Behavior." 

Once the full course load is rolled out, students should be able to earn 24 credits in just two semesters.

"Because it's being offered at the community college level, anyone can do it," said Renatta Cooper, education coordinator at the L.A. County Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education. 

She hopes to see other community colleges design similar programs, which "ultimately leads to a developmentally trained cadre of TK teachers."