When Melissa Romano began a co-op work placement at the Grace Church Daycare, she already knew she loved children. What she may not have expected was that her personal affinity for kids would grow into an apprenticeship and a well-defined career goal.
Apprentice Melissa Romano, centre, is getting first-hand experience in early childhood education.
Romano is a Grade 11 student at Sacred Heart Catholic High School. She aspires to become an early childhood educator, and as a member of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), her journey has already begun.
OYAP is an opportunity for young students to work in a skilled trade while they earn high school credits. Sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, OYAP also allows students to explore career options with the benefits of first-hand experience in their field of interest.
"The beauty of OYAP is that kids can really test their career choices before investing a lot of time and money at the college level," says Ivana King, co-op teacher at Sacred Heart CHS. "It can be excruciating to carry a dream right through the academics, only to find that your practical expectations don't fit. OYAP allows kids to make those realizations much earlier in the game."
For Romano, OYAP is a confirmation of her goals, as well as a significant head start toward achieving them.
"Being at Grace Church has underlined the fact that I love working with children. I am now completely sure that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life," Romano says.
Delma Gaffney runs the daycare, and she agrees that Romano has found her niche.
"You can't survive in this industry unless your heart is in it -- for Melissa, it's all about heart. She loves the kids and the families, she's industrious and motivated -- she has a very real and positive impact here."
Says Romano, "I realize the profound affect an adult can have on a child's early years -- I take my involvement seriously."
Though her participation is closely supervised, Romano's attitude has earned her an extensive roster of duties.
"Melissa is directly involved with the children but she also works with our staff to plan creative and sensory activities," Gaffney says. "She's even helped in the kitchen to provide the proper meals and snacks."
Romano's placement began in January and will run until the end of June. In addition, she attends classes every other week and keeps a journal of her progress.
"My co-op students meet to reflect on the job and discuss any problems as they arise," King says. "I'm here to monitor progress, guide the kids in job skills and address transition planning."
With OYAP, Romano's transition to college from high school will be virtually seamless. Her professional connections and hands-on training will follow Romano to her job as camp counsellor this summer. Her exemplary performance at her placement has already landed her a second work term at Grace Church when she returns to Sacred Heart for Grade 12.
And after she graduates, Romano will have an OYAP-reserved seat and a head start in required skills for the Early Childhood Education apprenticeship at Seneca College.
In partnership with education and business, OYAP is opening the door for Melissa Romano's bright and worthwhile future. Says King, "Melissa is patient, creative and committed -- it's a future she deserves."
(Aunie Edwards (email@example.com)
is a Guelph-based freelance writer.)
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