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$7.3 million grant to fund training for early educators

Tens of thousands of children in New Jersey are about feel the impact of a $7.3 million grant, said Wanda Blanchett, dean of the Graduate School of Education.

As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative, the New Jersey Department of Education has awarded the federal grant to the Graduate School of Education’s Center for Effective School Practices to create the New Jersey Early Learning Training Academy, said NJ-ELTA lead Kathleen Priestley.

The NJDOE’s awarding of the grant to CESP is the first of many recent measures taken to revamp educator training and promote childhood well being in the classroom.

The overall purpose of the training academy is to ensure the best education and care for children by professionals within the state, particularly for newborns to 8 year olds.

“The mission is to provide quality, professional development to early childhood professionals across the state,” Priestley said. “[We’re] making sure that we are helping the entire workforce meet rigorous standards for the highest quality education and care for infants, toddlers and young children.”

The professional development programs that the grant will fund are focused on the five tenets of Grow NJ Kids, a quality rating and improvement system observed by educators within the state.

Designing each program around health and safety, curriculum and learning environment, family and community engagement, workforce development, administration and management, NJ-ELTA’s professional training aims to meet all criteria that could potentially impact childhood development. 

“Our main goal is to help children be successful in school and support their families,” Priestley said. “We have to make sure the children are developing in all areas. It’s an early learning grant, but [we know] children will not grow and develop without these other components.”

In order to ensure that NJ-ELTA’s work will have its intended impact on children statewide, the academy is working closely with regional satellite locations.

Dividing the state into three regions — north, central and south — NJ-ELTA is operating out of Passaic County Community College and Atlantic Cape Community College in order to establish a regional presence in north and south Jersey, as well as central, where the GSE will act as the regional satellite. 

Cynthia Blitz, executive editor of CESP and principal investigator and project director for NJ-ELTA, said working with both community colleges in addition to the Rutgers community provides beneficial perspectives.

“[Our] purpose is [to] have a [regional] presence, but also to tap the resources of the community colleges,” Blitz said. “They have different expertise [and] different experiences than we might have, so they enrich the academy by [providing] different perspectives as well.”

The grant from the NJDOE is important because it provides sufficient funding for NJ-ELTA to train early childhood educators and instill qualities necessary for the proper education of young children in the present and the future.

“The long-term objective would be to improve early learning in New Jersey as a whole,” Blitz said. “The potential reach is very broad, and the hope is that this three-year grant will sustain beyond that.”

Although NJ-ELTA is just one project being carried out by one part of the GSE, the institution is eager to see the results of these revamped training procedures and how they will impact childhood education. 

The broad scope of NJ-ELTA makes a tremendous impact on children who are placed in all mediums of childcare, Blanchett said. Although she could not pinpoint an exact number, she estimated that “tens of thousands of children that will be impacted by [the] grant.”

NJ-ELTA also strives to break down barriers that prevent low-income children from receiving early childhood education. 

“In the GSE, our focus is on excellence and equity in education,” Blanchett said. “This grant is a really huge opportunity for us to make even greater progress towards that goal.”

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