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Growing Student Population Praises National Distance Learning Community

Date: Nov. 21, 2000
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Archive: General News

A national distance learning partnership including three UC colleges is helping the nation's Head Start teachers earn a college degree, and students who never before felt they were college material are calling the Early Childhood Learning Community (ECLC) the "opportunity of a lifetime."

The ECLC was launched last spring and at that time, approximately 30 students, mostly from Ohio and Indiana, had signed up for courses. This fall, 140 students are working toward an associate's degree in Early Childhood Education through University College. The network uses satellite television and the Internet to teach students who are too far away from a campus to make regular trips to a college classroom. The ECLC is now reaching students in New Jersey, Oklahoma, California, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio and Indiana.

The 1998 Head Start Authorization Act requires 50 percent of the staff in each of the nation's Head Start centers to have an associate, baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood education by 2003. The State of Ohio will require a college degree for all of the state's Head Start teachers by 2008. Tens of thousands of workers around the country need a degree, people like 36-year-old Angie Butcher, a lead teacher at Jackson-Vinton Community Action Head Start in Wellston, Ohio. The city of Wellston is in southeastern Ohio, about 130 miles east of Cincinnati.

Angie Butcher

"When my supervisors would approach me about college, I would just get sick inside," says Butcher. The closest college campus is 45 minutes away, and Butcher says she "was not very interested in what high school had to offer, let alone college. Then my director received a brochure in the mail about the distance learning program, and asked me if I'd like to give college a shot that way."

Butcher says her first distance learning instructor was Ellen Lynch, coordinator of the Early Childhood Care and Education Program at University College. "Her compassion came across to me, even online. Ellen was so kind and was such a morale booster. She would e-mail little notes to encourage us to do our best. She was just awesome!"

Now in her fourth course, Butcher no longer gets butterflies about getting a degree. Instead, she gets excited. "Some of the things I've learned in these wonderful classes are being used in my classrooms today. My professional manner has grown immensely...I have taken many things I have learned, such as active listening, constructive knowledge and emergent curriculum, into my classroom. I would recommend this way of learning to anyone who wants to excel in their profession."

Butcher's first involvement in Head Start is a familiar story for many teachers in the program. She married her high school sweetheart, David, two years after she graduated from high school. After her first son, Keith, was born, she began a childcare service in her home. She placed Keith in Head Start when he turned four, and eventually became active in Head Start herself through parent meetings and eventually as an aide. A mother of two, Keith, 13, and Nathan, 11, Butcher has worked at the center eight years and is lead teacher of a double-session classroom.

The average Head Start teacher is a nontraditional student, and many of them started working for these programs after they saw how Head Start benefited their own children and families.

The distance learning format is a new experience for some of the faculty as well as the students. Christine Lottman, assistant professor of humanities and social sciences, University College, taped two classes over the summer quarter with the help of RISE Learning Solutions, a Cincinnati-based educational corporation. "We had a studio with lights, three cameras and a director. The folks at RISE were the best, and so were the ECLC folks. It was also helpful to have students there for the taping so there was a feedback mechanism built into the program." This quarter, Lottman developed three sections that students join online.

"As with any innovative program, ECLC has its bugs, which we continue to find and fix," says University College Dean John Bryan. "But the experience of Angie Butcher shows that our ECLC students can make human connections with their instructors, can learn, and can succeed despite the intervening technology. Indeed, they can do all that because of the technology, getting an education that otherwise would be beyond their reach."

Three UC colleges created the ECLC. University College is leading the first phase with the development of the associate degree program. A master's degree program is currently under development in the College of Education, and the college also is exploring the potential for a bachelor's degree program with teacher certification. The College of Evening and Continuing Education (CECE) has provided the expertise in distance learning and marketing. RISE developed the approach to carrying the telecourse portion of the associate degree program. The ECLC has the potential to provide distance learning to students in 48 states, excluding Alaska and Hawaii. The program has been endorsed by the National Head Start Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Head Start programs and training for Head Start teachers.

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