Days can be hectic and long and the salary modest. But as Helen Lu, an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) apprentice is learning, the rewards are immense.
"I love helping kids learn through all kinds of different activities," says Lu, 19. "The days are really busy. I do a lot of creative work with the kids, like painting, drawing and gluing. I also help look after them, like changing diapers and serving lunch."
Helen Lu, an Early Childhood Educator apprentice, loves her co-op placement at the Columbus Centre Daycare. "I love helping kids learn," says the 19-year-old.
Lu graduated from Nelson A. Boylen Collegiate Institute in Toronto last June, but returned to school in September to take co-op. She registered with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) and after completing a first semester placement, is working at Columbus Children's Centre in Toronto.
At the same time, she is taking a specialized program at Seneca College. She attends classes once a week to learn about child development and has applied to its ECE apprenticeship program next fall.
ECEs must hold a college diploma in early childhood education, a bachelor's degree in education, or obtain certification through apprenticeship training.
OYAP allows students to begin their apprenticeship training as early as Grade 11. The school-work transition program is sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Students receive co-operative education credits toward their high school diploma, while the hours they work on the job are put toward journeyperson certification.
The benefits are many, believes co-op teacher Linda Herriott. "Co-op helps students make choices. Many have a glorified idea about what a career is all about. With co-op, they can try it out and see what the real world is really like.
Early Childhood Educator|
The ECE apprenticeship usually takes three to four years to complete.
ECEs typically work in child-care centres or facilities and in pre-school sections of schools and hospitals. They plan and lead age-appropriate programs for children that facilitate physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth.
Employment prospects over the next five years are average.
In 1999, most ECEs earned about $12.63 an hour.
Information from www.edu.gov.on.ca
"For a lot of students, it makes a difference in their choices," Herriott says. "They learn whether they're suited to a career before they invest time and money at college or university."
She points to Lu as an example of how OYAP is working for more and more students. "Helen is earning both high school and college credits, plus hours towards her certification. She is doing three things all at once," Herriott says. "It was her first experience working with kids and she was fantastic. She found the place where she belongs."
Lu has also earned the praise of her employer. "She's shown a lot of initiative," says Joanne Girardi, program supervisor. "There's no way to sugar coat this type of job and Helen has adapted very well. She's a team player and has a knack with children."
Employers also benefit from OYAP. "These students are energetic and bring us new ideas," Girardi says. "We get to see them hands-on. There's no better way to find a good employee.
"It takes a very special person to work as an ECE, just like those who work with seniors," Girardi says.
"It's not a high paying job and it's not prestigious, but it is certainly a valuable job."
(Reach freelancer Linda White at (firstname.lastname@example.org
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