One scholarship program is working to ensure the youngest members of society have more educated teachers.
In its first semester last fall, Project Pathfinders helped 16 early childhood educators in the Williamsburg, James City and York county area work toward a certificate or degree. The scholarship program grew from a partnership between the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the Virginia Community College System, according to a news release.
The Richmond-based nonprofit, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation is a public-private partnership making sure children get to kindergarten prepared to learn, according to the foundation's website.
"We developed it in partnership with Virginia General Assembly and the Governor's office out of recognition that it's the adults who work with children who have the most impact on their brain development and learning development," said Karin Bowles, VECF's director of strategy.
The scholarship is a state-wide initiative funded through 2018. The Virginia General Assembly allotted $600,000 toward scholarships in 2017 and $1 million in 2018, Bowles said.
Instructors enrolled in a Virginia Community College can request funding for up to two early childhood education courses each semester. For approved courses, the scholarship covers all tuition, fees and books.
Applicants must be teaching at a child care or preschool program for children up to age 5, or be a dual-enrolled high school student in an early education community college program.
Ramona Ozment is one of 10 local recipients in spring 2017. A preschool teacher at the First Steps Child Care and Development Center at Lafayette High School, she said she wouldn't be able to afford classes without the scholarship.
Ozment moved to Williamsburg from the Philippines in 2012 and is working toward a career studies certificate in early childhood education from Thomas Nelson Community College.
"To study in America really means scholarship and loans. Without a scholarship I don't see it possible to continue early childhood education program," Ozment said. "I grew up sending myself to school and paying for it, so it is such a privilege for anyone to have a scholarship given to them."
The scholarship can be applied to a certificate or credential program or toward an associate's degree in early childhood education.
Bowles said priority is given to teachers working with children considered at-risk based on socio-economic factors.
"We know that research shows that children who have multiple risk factors are already behind when they start kindergarten, so those early years are critical for them to have strong relationships with adults who can improve those outcomes," Bowles said.
Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.
Applications for the summer 2017 semester are due by April 20.
For more information or to apply, visit www.smartbeginnings.org/home/about/project-pathfinders.aspx.