CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a $14.4 million grant from Oregon’s Early Learning Division which will be used to establish a statewide center focused on strengthening the early childhood education workforce in Oregon.

The Early Learning Systems Initiative center will be located on OSU’s campus.

“Many factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased attention to the challenges facing the early childhood education workforce. There’s high turnover, low wages and a lack of opportunity for professional development and advancement,” said Megan McClelland, director of the Hallie E. Ford Center and principal investigator on the grant. “I think the state has really recognized the need to increase support for Oregon’s diverse field of early childhood educators in both home and center-based programs.”

According to the university, the new center will provide support and training from an anti-bias, culturally responsive lens to better equip educators who care for children from marginalized populations and for children who have experienced trauma.

It will work closely with similar centers at Portland State University, Western Oregon University as well as the Early Learning Division to build on their existing work and to align with the Early Childhood Suspension and Expulsion Prevention Program currently being developed.

Rather than teaching educators directly, the center will focus on a “train the trainers” framework, providing mentorship and resources for coaches around the state to share with early childhood educators within their communities. The center has hired four new coaches to help perform this work.

Recent OSU reports show that every county in Oregon qualifies as a “child care desert” for infants and toddlers, while 25 of 36 counties are child care deserts for kids ages 3-5. Desert status means there are at least three children per available child care slot in those age groups.

McClelland says Oregon educators have communicated that they don’t have enough training in how to meet the needs of children from marginalized populations and children who have been exposed to trauma. They also said they need more training in how to prevent preschool expulsion.

“We want to support the early education workforce in ways that reduce stress and burnout, so they are more effective educators,” McClelland said.

The center will also create digital literacy trainings to help educators access online professional learning opportunities in their preferred language.

Article was originally published by KPIC.