New Grant Boosts Early Childhood Paraeducators

Funds to help train key classroom support specialists, focus on diverse child needs

A new Federal grant is set to encourage better student experiences for younger children in eastern Iowa. A four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support education and training for students in Kirkwood’s Early Childhood Education degree program. The grant will provide $150,000 in support of paraeducator training for each of the four years in the total project.

The award is one of 11 grants nationwide focusing on children with special needs in pre-kindergarten settings. Kirkwood officials say the grant is timely support for crucial young child learning experiences, and supports other initiatives including the State of Iowa’s Voluntary Pre-School program. The grant project will focus much of its efforts in quality classroom experiences for early intervention for children with special needs in years before kindergarten classes.

Kirkwood Early Childhood Instructor Melanie Nollsch says the grant will put needed resources into an area identified as critical to later learning success in Iowa’s youngest citizens.

“Many research studies on early childhood learning and brain development point to better student progress and more progress in later classroom years if we focus on positive developmental learning in the pre-kindergarten years. That will be of vital importance for young people with various special learning needs. We aim for these paraeducator trainees to take new skills and wisdom to many area daycare and preschool settings,” Nollsch said.

Social Science and Career Option Programs Dean Kathleen Van Steenhuyse says the grant focuses on two key areas: faculty professional development, and training current and future early childhood paraeducators. She says the project will benefit from “greatly talented people” in the faculty and Kirkwood grants office.

“Our long-time Disabilities Services Professor Susan Simon has just retired from full-time teaching, but will stay involved in building and directing this new grant project. She is known around the state for advocating and growing opportunities for paraeducators in valuable classroom roles. Melanie brings extensive experience both in our Kirkwood Kids child care center and as an Early Childhood Education instructor. This program will prepare a new generation of early childhood paraeducators to work with our most vulnerable young people. Together, Susan and Melanie are going to be a powerhouse team,” Van Steenhuyse observed.

Simon noted that the new program will address “a changing Iowa” and focus on developing needs for pre-school children.
“We can see plenty of evidence that our state’s demographics and community needs are changing. Our future graduates will see a greater variety of cultural and language diversity, and a greater probability of children with special needs in child care centers. This new program will gather strategies and methods, then teach real-world skills for these new paraeducators in Iowa,” she said.

Simon also emphasized a deep “hands-on component” to the training. “Our plans are to help groups of students build local learning communities. This process will involve mentoring, peer learning and local-based resource libraries, all aiding the paraeducators in preparing for their special roles in child care centers in Iowa,” she added.

More information on Kirkwood’s Early Childhood Education programs is available on the college website:

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