NIU Early Childhood Education program earns renewed Gateways credential nod

NIU’s Department of Special and Early Education (SEED) has earned another five years of approval from the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies as a Gateways to Opportunity Entitled Institution.

The designation allows NIU’s Early Childhood Education majors the option to attain Gateways to Opportunity ECE Credentials at the completion of their courses – and to improve their marketability to potential employers.

It also comes a year before a new requirement from the Illinois State Board of Education regarding Professional Educator Licensure.

By Sept. 1, 2019, all Early Childhood Education programs in the state must become Gateways Level 5-entitled institutions. Level 5 equates with a bachelor’s degree or with initial teacher licensure in a master’s program.

Myoung Jung, speaking on behalf of SEED colleagues Stephanie DeSpainRobin Miller Young and Natalie Young, says that “the Gateway entitlement is one of the measures that assures quality in our programs” and “makes sure that we prepare our Early Childhood candidates well for their profession.”

“The Early Childhood faculty members are extremely excited because the preparation process to maintain our entitlement status took about a year, and it represented very meticulous and detailed activities to ensure we had met all the new program criteria,” Jung says.

“We had to ensure that our coursework, clinical experiences and student-teaching experiences are well-aligned with 56 Gateways competencies across seven areas,” he adds. “As a result, we have revised some of our program components to ensure that candidates move from initial skill acquisition to full mastery with performance-based measures.”

Myoung Jung
Myoung Jung

Gateways to Opportunity is a statewide professional development and support system that guides, encourages and recognizes those who serve children, youth and families.

Competencies embedded in the Gateways credential include human growth and development; health, safety and wellness; observation and assessment; curriculum or program design; interactions, relationships and environment; family and community relationships; and professionalism.

Since 2008, when NIU participated in the development and piloting of the program, and was among the first institutions to earn approval, Gateways to Opportunity has proactively developed “stackable” credentials, says Robin Miller Young, assistant professor of Early Childhood Education.

Level 1, for example, is available to some high school students who successfully completed classes in child development or who participated in supervised clinical experiences with young children.

Higher levels – 2, 3 and 4 – are offered to students taking appropriate courses at two-year community colleges; competencies needed for those levels are integrated into the early courses of NIU’s B.S.Ed. degree.

A Family Child Care credential, meanwhile, is an option for people who want to own and operate childcare businesses in their homes.

“The Gateway Level 5 credential assures our candidates that they are ready to provide effective and efficient supports and services to meet the needs of young children and their families,” Jung says.

“Subsequently, those young children and their families can achieve the developmental milestones and early learning benchmarks that will result in them engaging confidently, successfully and independently in school, home and community settings.”

Robin Miller Young
Robin Miller Young

Early Childhood Education majors at NIU also benefit from the Gateways approval, Young says, for multiple reasons.

One involves money.

Generous scholarships are available for students pursuing the Gateways credential, Young says, and the organization’s Great START (Strategy to Attract and Retain Teachers) program offers wage supplements to eligible, low-income early care and education professionals.

Meanwhile, not all of the Department of Special and Early Education’s teacher-candidates embark on careers in public schools.

“Some candidates look for opportunities to provide supports and services to young children and their families through other early learning program options, systems and agencies that do not require a Professional Educator License but do require the Gateways credential,” she says.

“This may include faith-based preschools, for-profit and not-profit options as well as programs, often grant-funded, that support early childhood educators in a home-visiting mode.”

For the department itself, Jung says, the renewed approval recognizes past and future program excellence.

Stephanie DeSpain and Natalie Young
Stephanie DeSpain and Natalie Young

Professors already have aligned their courses to the credential’s competencies, a purposeful move that helps students to earn their Professional Educator Licensure and Gateways Level 5 credentials without any additional work.

They also are mentoring adjunct instructors to use the performance-based assessments in their curriculum.

““We believe that the Gateway entitlement indicates our high standards for our candidates and the high quality in our programs,” he says. “This approval is just one of the accomplishments that our Early Childhood programs have made in the past few years, including our Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation recognition and the high passing rates on the EdTPA and the state content exam.”

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