Grant Aims to Address Teacher Shortage in Early Education

The Joliet Junior College Child Development (CDEV) program has received a grant from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) to strengthen and diversify the early childhood workforce. JJC is the only community college in Illinois to receive this grant, which is funded by the federal Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five initiative, in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development. 

The grant is helping remove the financial burden for many seeking a degree or certification in this field by funding tuition and books for eligible students, plus brings on mentors to ensure the students stay on track.  

child development students
Students in the cohort.

“In order to meet this goal, JJC is enrolling current teachers and assistant teachers in early childhood centers within the district to complete college courses to earn a child development certificate,” said JJC’s child development program coordinator, Melissa Szymczak. “We are engaging these professionals with a variety of support, including advising, individualized mentoring, and a streamlined credential process.” 

All students participating in this cohort are currently employed in an early childhood center. Since they started last fall, 40% of these students have earned promotions, raises or increased responsibilities. 23 early childhood center staff from eight different facilities participated in year one of the cohort, which ended in June. 

“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,” said JJC adjunct instructor and grant manager Rebecca Caldwell.   

“The most impactful parts have been the support and help from the professors and mentors,” said one JJC student. “They've helped try to keep us motivated and push through hard to finish the semesters successfully." 

Not only is the grant helping address the shortage of teachers, it is also raising the quality of education in early childhood centers.  

“As an instructor, I have seen childcare workers thrive, increase their self-esteem, and reinvigorate their commitment to the families and children they serve. For many, they have moved up in their roles, pay scales and career goals all because of the grant funding and the opportunity that the child development department at JJC has provided,” Caldwell said.  

The CDEV program has many center partners that hire JJC students, including Kid Country Childcare in Manhattan. 

“It enables the teachers to receive more education and support, which in turn makes them more flexible in the positions that they can fill at the center,” said Emily Walles, director of personnel at Kid Country Childcare.  

JJC offers an AAS degree in child development, certificates of achievement in child development and infant/toddler and twos educator and a certificate of completion as a child development professional. 

“The past year has been very successful, with 25 students completing over 330 credits of college in the short time frame of October 2020 to July 2021. We have already enrolled 50 new participants in cohorts beginning in August and October 2021,” Szymczak stated.  

For more information on the CDEV program, contact Rebecca Caldwell at

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