Early Childhood Programs Building Next Generation of O.C. Professionals Industry Profile

November 21, 2018

Successful people aren’t born. They’re built.

Through experience and environment, nature and nurture, successful humans acquire new capabilities every day. And like any other construction project, successful people require a solid foundation.

That’s where the unique and misunderstood field of Early Childhood Education comes in. With so much attention – not to mention funding – directed toward K-12 and higher education, it’s easy to overlook the professionals that prepare young minds for the rigors of education in the first place.

“Early Childhood Education is an absolutely important role for helping develop and accelerate access to educational skills and knowledge,” says Mary Funaoka, Associate Professor at Santa Ana College. “Psychological, emotional, cognitive, and physical development are all developed as early as birth [and] a child’s socialization experience is critically forged in his/her early years.”

Santa Ana College’s Childhood Development and Education Studies department is one of five in the Orange County community college system, with Fullerton, Cypress, Orange Coast and Saddleback Colleges also offering similar, career-launching programs. In keeping with Orange County career education’s “Future BUILT” philosophy, these programs are not only critical to the future of the next generation of workforce professionals, but to the very fabric of local communities.

“We are creating a strong pipeline of educators who stay and teach in Santa Ana as a way to empower and strengthen the community,” says Funaoka, whose department recently garnered two “Strong Workforce Stars” from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office for flawless employment outcomes in its Preschool Age Child and Infants and Toddlers programs.

Though primarily entering the program to become teachers, graduates of Early Childhood Education programs in Orange County have access to a variety of potential career paths, in education, social work, private daycare, and the non-profit sector. With the population continuing to expand, and more families moving toward two-income structures, opportunities for college-educated professionals like Preschool Teachers (+10%*), Childcare Center Directors (+10%**), and Social Workers (16%***) are growing well ahead of general occupation trends.

What often ties these career-bound program alums together is their capacity for patience, understanding, and resolve – attributes critical to any occupation involving the supervision of young children. However, according to Funaoka, the field nevertheless tends to attract a surprising cross-section of professionals, with myriad philosophies and styles.

“Teaching is not an easy field and one size does not fit all,” she says. “A teacher’s growth mindset and high expectations are essential for facing children whose minds are still malleable and expanding.”

With fast, focused coursework covering everything from children’s literature and literacy, to basic cognitive development and creativity skills, Early Childhood Education programs in Orange County are challenging students to turn their passion for teaching and desire to make a difference, all while creating a mold for the coming generations of regional commerce.

“The field is sometimes overlooked and underestimated,” says Funaoka. “[But] community colleges play a pivotal role in serving as a gateway for those entering the ECE field.”

Visit futurebuilt.org for more information on Early Childhood Education career programs at Santa Ana College, Fullerton College, Cypress College, Orange Coast College and Saddleback College.

* https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm

** https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/preschool-and-childcare-center-directors.htm

*** https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm