INDIANAPOLIS — Right now, there is a great need — and great opportunity — for preschool teachers in the Head Start program in Indianapolis. People willing to work with young children in poverty can be paid like a credentialed teacher while they work toward the required certification.
Their schooling is paid for, as well.
Tatiana Harrell leads a Head Start class at the Family Development Services Pike Plaza location. Harrell’s 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds made play dough during a recent visit.
"The very first thing that children want to do is play because it should be fun,” said Harrell. “So, I feel like I'm the kind of person that's always wanting to have fun."
Harrell is molding her career through an apprenticeship program that is paying her to lead the preschool class and paying for her education as she works toward the required associate's degree in early childhood education.
Under the apprenticeship program, FDS will cover the cost of a candidate’s Child Development Associate credential education, as well as an associate’s degree in early childhood education, if desired. FDS will also pay candidates hourly wages and provide the opportunity to work in an Early Head Start or Head Start classroom while the candidates complete their education requirements. Signs in front of the Indianapolis headquarters advertise FDS is hiring teachers for up to $21 an hour.
Harrell is a former Head Start preschooler herself. She returned to the program as a classroom assistant in 2016. She seized the apprenticeship as an opportunity to move toward her dream of becoming a preschool center director in the future.
"You can't always afford schooling and things like that, especially when you have children at home and working with children at school,” said Harrell. “It can be a lot."
Family Development Services is the sole provider of Head Start free preschool for children in poverty in Marion and Hamilton counties.
FDS currently serves about 830 children in the Indianapolis area in the Head Start program, and another 160 in Early Head Start. The program starts at six weeks old and continues until a child goes to kindergarten. But there is a waiting list for qualified children to enter the program. FDS could serve more families if they just had teachers for the classrooms.
That demand for potential teachers led to the apprentice program, which already has about 30 people enrolled. Many are internal applicants already working in Head Start as classroom assistants or other staff positions. But FDS executive director Kim Rhodes is always recruiting.
"We've never had this opportunity in Head Start programs before,” said Rhodes. “So, I think if people really are interested in education, and working and making a difference with children, this is the right time."
Dulce Lopez started with FDS as a classroom assistant about three years ago and decided this was her time.
"It's giving me the opportunity to go back to school, and they'll cover the cost and I'll be able to get an associate’s degree while they're still they're paying me as a preschool teacher already as if I already had the credentials that I need,” said Lopez.
Lopez is leading a Head Start class of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds at the Pike Plaza preschool.
"Working with them brings like my inner child out,” said Lopez. “So, like we'll be playing all day and they allow me to bring my goofy side out."
Lopez starts classes in January to pursue her degree.