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Featured | News | Health Education and Human SciencesAugust 21, 2023

Hands-On Learning: A Pathway to Early Childhood Education Careers

Written By: Ian Silvester

Seventeen high school juniors spent their summer not with a break, but with an exciting educational journey. They attended the Early Childhood Summer CDA Academy, an innovative program hosted by the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith that aims to prepare high school students for fulfilling careers.
The CDA academy is a five-week immersive experience where students live on campus and divide their days between hands-on experience in local early childhood centers and classroom instruction from qualified faculty at UAFS. 
“The CDA Academy at UAFS is the first of its kind to be offered in Arkansas,” Brianne Barron, CDA Academy director and instructor, explained. “Regardless of a student’s career ambition or future goals in early childhood, this program allows them to earn working skills and a direct pathway to college.”
This remarkable opportunity was made possible through a grant of more than $574,000 from the Arkansas Early Childhood Association’s T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program. Thus, students can participate and live in the modern UAFS Lion’s Den at no cost; each receives a $1,500 stipend per summer.
“There is an emphasis on preparing the early childhood education workforce as early as possible,” Dr. Shelli Henehan, professor and director of Early Childhood Development, said. “Children in Arkansas deserve to be cared for by the best of the best, and that is what we are raising with our Academy students at UAFS. Students will be experienced in applying the Arkansas Child Development Early Learning Standards to their daily practices in early childhood classrooms.”
After two summers, participants will earn a Certificate of Proficiency in Early Childhood Education from UAFS and meet the course requirements for a Childhood Development Associate credential from the national CDA credentialing program. Additionally, they will have accrued 200 hours of child center experience. 
Reflecting on her time this summer, Southside High School junior Clair Merry said, “I have achieved more in such a short time than I thought possible. I’ve taken that first step into what it’s like working in a professional environment, working through college-level courses while maintaining a steady schedule, and working on assignments I had not yet done in high school.”
“This program has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have dreamed of, new connections, and a mindset toward what I want to do in college and life.”
The program also includes out-of-classroom amenities. Participants live on campus with meals, snacks, and swag bags provided. There is also a mileage stipend for their travel home on Fridays and their return on Sundays. Students who complete the second summer course in their senior year will get to keep their laptop and course textbooks after graduating.

“I have gained so much knowledge about early childhood education and college in general through the CDA Academy,” Emily Key, Arkansas Virtual Academy student, shared. This program has offered me an opportunity to get my CDA and other certificates in the early childhood career path. I’m glad I got to live on the UAFS campus and experience college life here. I hope to potentially attend UAFS after high school and finish my early childhood education degree here.”
The CDA Academy students were also given the unique task of setting up the Little Lions Child Development Center on the UAFS campus. It is anticipated to serve 42 children aged three and younger when it officially opens this fall. 
Annette Lauver, UAFS Little Lions Child Development Center director, appreciated the students’ help and said she hopes it will lead to recruiting participants once they complete the program and begin careers in early childhood education.
The CDA Summer Academy was originally a creation of Ronnette Haynes, instructor and coaching coordinator of Early Childhood and Preschool in the UAFS School of Education.
For more information on Early Childhood Education at UAFS, visit the link to the UAFS School of Education.