Joliet Junior College earns grant to help early education students

JJC was the only community college in the state to receive the grant

joliet junior college, jjc, education, childcare, catholic charities

Joliet Junior College won a grant meant to remove barriers for students seeking a degree or certification in early childhood development.

JJC was the only community college in the state to receive the grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education aimed at diversifying the early childhood workforce, according to a news release.

Melissa Szymczak, JJC’s child development program coordinator, said JJC is enrolling teachers and assistant teachers in early childhood centers to take college courses to earn a child development certificate.

“We are engaging these professionals with a variety of support, including advising, individualized mentoring and a streamlined credential process,” Szymczak said in a statement.

All JJC students participating in this year’s cohort are employed in an early childhood center, according to the release.

Since they started last fall, 40% of the students have earned promotions, raises or increased responsibilities.

In the program’s first cohort, which ended last June, 23 early childhood staff from eight different facilities participated.

Besides enhancing the quality of education at early childhood centers, the grant also aims to help address the shortage of teachers across the state.

“The early childhood workforce is one that is compromised with turnover, and with retention being a constant battle there have been many initiatives that have been put into place to support the early childhood workforce,” JJC adjunct instructor Rebecca Caldwell said in the release.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.