With growing recognition that Minnesota and the entire nation are in the midst of a child care crisis intensified by the pandemic, a new M State program encourages high school students to explore careers in early childhood education.

M State is now bringing early childhood classes to high schools in the area, giving students an opportunity to earn credits toward an early childhood college degree, said M State early childhood program director Sue TenEyck-Stafki.

Through the new program, TenEyck-Stafki will be on site at partner high schools teaching an in-person course once a week. During that class period for the remainder of the school week, enrolled students will either work at the high school on an academic portfolio for the class or get direct hands-on experience at a licensed child care center.

TenEyck-Stafki had been exploring the option for a high school-based program for several years, but the pandemic underscored the need. M State’s traditional early childhood courses are taught in person on the Detroit Lakes campus, she said, but that’s not an option for most high school students.

“You have to think outside the box, and sometimes you have to bring the courses to students. They can’t always come to you,” TenEyck-Stafki said. “Not everyone is going to be able to drive to campus.”

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M State signed agreements over the summer with high schools in Perham and Rothsay, and TenEyck-Stafki is teaching a class of seniors in her introductory early childhood course in Perham this fall. M State is continuing to explore offering courses in Rothsay in the spring, and she is working with other high schools to bring the program to their students.

A student who began the early childhood course sequence as a high school junior could have half of a one-year certificate completed by the time they graduated, with no cost to the students for tuition or textbooks. The credits they earned would transfer into either M State’s 18-credit Early Childhood certificate or the college’s Early Childhood Transfer Pathway in preparation for earning a four-year degree.

“What a great way for student in high school to decide — before they get to college — if this career is a good fit, and to understand the importance of child development,” TenEyck-Stafki said. “Even if students don’t go into the field, it’s an awesome program for people who may become parents someday.”