Some half a century ago, school districts across the nation recognized that the ideal of prepping students for college and a white-collar profession was simply not going to fit every student, and the idea of “vocational” or “trade” schools took hold. They would take those kids who had an aptitude for, say, auto mechanics or electrical work, and give them a leg up to move into the workforce as apprentices or novice tradesmen.
Many such programs, such as Keene’s Cheshire Career Center, have expanded to become a training ground for myriad occupations, technical and otherwise. But the essential idea behind the programs — to offer training that will prepare students for careers, rather than specifically for college, after high school — remains.
That’s a good thing, because when it comes to many specific jobs, you really don’t want someone who isn’t trained.
It’s easy to imagine the downsides of hiring an incompetent electrician, plumber or auto mechanic, or having an ill-trained firefighter or EMT arrive to your emergency. But just as important, we’d argue, is having a skilled and well-trained child-care worker or early childhood educator.
The Cheshire Career Center has included such training in its curriculum, but will no more after this school year ends. Why? Because the state won’t support it.
According to center director Samantha Belcourt, the center will drop its child-care program for infants and toddlers because the students providing the care no longer can receive credit for the task. That’s because the state Department of Education revamped its guidelines for “careers in education.” It seems teaching students to care for and educate babies and toddlers doesn’t meet the state’s standard of preparing for a “high-wage, high-skill, in-demand” career.
The key, it appears, is the “high-wage” descriptor. Child-care workers in New Hampshire earn an average of less than $26,000; elementary school teachers earn an average of $60,730. No one would argue there’s a lack of demand for qualified child-care workers. As for the “highly skilled” aspect, we pose this query: Would you trust your infant to someone you didn’t think was highly skilled?
As The Sentinel’s recent Pandemic Parenting series has made clear, one of the biggest challenges for parents of young children is finding quality, affordable care.
The state’s position appears tied to federal Perkins funding, which it passes along to career centers to help defray the cost of training for needed workers. Without that funding, it seems, the center can’t afford to continue the option. Students in the careers-in-education track will have to shift to studying care and education of older children.
Note the number of children served in the child-care program — all children of SAU 29 staff — is small. Only five children are cared for this semester, and only three of those were expected to return in the fall. But given the cost and limited availability of quality child care in the region and state, any loss of spots in such a program would be bad news.
But the real downside, to us, is the loss of training the program provides students. Most public school teachers in the state are graduates of a college pedagogical program, such as Keene State’s. But quality training for child-care workers is harder to come by.
Moreover, that they’re paid so dismally for the importance of what they provide is shameful enough without adding injury to insult by making it that much harder to find such training.
We find it puzzling the Department of Education would see no value in training students for such a vocation. If the decision is solely because federal Perkins guidelines prohibit it, that would be just as disappointing at that level.
If the state really wants to attract quality workers in all fields, one key is to enable quality child care, including training opportunities.