SF State program propels early childhood educators to graduation

Early childhood graduates wearing caps and gowns gather for a group photo

EDvance director Lygia Stebbing (lower right) celebrates with graduates last month.

Counseling, priority registration help break down barriers for students as certification standards rise

It took Yohana Quiroz more than a decade to complete her community college studies. Working full-time as a young parent, taking basic math and English classes and switching her focus from business administration to early childhood education kept her from making much progress toward transferring to a four-year college.

But after enrolling at San Francisco State University, Quiroz found her way to a program for early childhood educators that aims to remove barriers facing people working in the early childhood education field. The PATH Program (Promoting Achievement Through Higher Education) gave her tutoring, counseling and help with getting relevant and required courses on nights and weekends. Quiroz was able to get her bachelor’s degree from SF State with just another two years of study.

“Everything was carved out for us, and we knew that we were going to be done in two years,” she said. “It was a rigorous program that actually provided me with the skills to pursue and complete graduate school.”

Helping early childhood educators get their degrees is more important than ever. Local and state governments have begun mandating universal preschool while also increasing the degree certification standards for early childhood educators, said Lygia Stebbing, the director of SF State’s EDvance office, an early childhood workforce teacher preparation program that oversees PATH.

“Historically, the profession was more for care. It was like a service field. You just needed to have some units from a community college,” Stebbing said. “But as we start understanding more and more about childhood development, we see that zero to five are the most important years for children.”

For the past few years, the PATH program has been increasing graduation rates for early children education students while also increasing competency levels. The program, which is jointly housed within the University's Marian Wright Edelman Institute and the Department of Child and Adolescent Development, also fosters professional development by putting students in classrooms, giving them experience to be lead teachers after graduation.

About 80 students per year use the PATH program’s services. The program has a four-year graduation rate of 95 percent, compared to 53 percent among SF State’s full-time freshmen and 36 percent of the University’s community college transfer students. The students finish with a bachelor’s degree in Child & Adolescent Development with an emphasis on early childhood education.

Last spring, every graduate had completed their work in either four years or, for transfers, in two years. Many of the graduates were non-traditional students — about one-third were working mothers, most were in their 30s and most came from lower-income communities. That’s important because children thrive when they have teachers that look like themselves, Stebbing said.

“A lot of these women were spending years in community college. They were really struggling to get through, and they weren’t ready to transfer,” Stebbing said. “Now they’re getting through and they’re graduating on time. I don’t think there’s another CSU that has as comprehensive a pathway as we have right now.”

Quiroz went on to get a master’s degree and is now the director of the Children, Youth and Family Division at the Felton Institute, one of the largest nonprofit agencies in the Bay Area.

“I’m a first-generation college student, and I had a hard time navigating institutions of higher ed,” she said. “It took me more time to obtain my transfer AA than to get my bachelor's and master's together — that’s criminal. Institutions have a responsibility to create clearer pathways.”