Virtual Lab School Momentum boosts childcare professional development

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Virtual Lab School Momentum boosts childcare professional development

By Ben Lewis, Director of Communications

A faculty-led program at Ohio State is partnering with the community to raise the level of childcare in central Ohio. Virtual Lab School (VLS) Momentum is a pilot project focused on providing high-quality, accessible professional development to the Columbus early childhood workforce. By participating in VLS Momentum, childcare professionals can learn research-based, developmentally appropriate practices for working with young children and earn professional development hours toward a credential.

Sarah Lang, assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, and Cynthia Buettner, now an emeritus faculty member, started the program in the summer of 2019 with partners including the City of Columbus, Future Ready Columbus, Action for Children and childcare centers across Franklin County. Around that time, changes to state regulations led to a point where some centers might not be able to provide publicly funded childcare if they didnt have enough credentialed teachers.

"There were some avenues to help people work on their Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential, but there werent enough," Lang said. "That led to us asking if we could help a broader set of teachers if we did this project together."

Lang said her community partners were critical in planning as well as identifying and recruiting the appropriate childcare centers for VLS Momentum.

"When we faced challenges, they were great about collaborating on how we could solve them together," she said.

VLS Momentum leveraged the training system of the Virtual Lab School, a decade-plus long partnership between Ohio State, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that focuses on military-affiliated childcare, and adapted it to the local community.

"Every course is set up for teachers to build the base knowledge that they need in child development and quality early care and education practices," Lang said. "As part of that, a coach helps them make sure they know how to do the critical practices in the classroom."

The coaches play an important role in ensuring the teachers can apply what they learned. This sets VLS Momentum apart from other types of professional development, which might include going to a workshop to get their hours without the additional support of a coach.

So far nine teachers have earned their CDA after completing the VLS Momentum program.

"It's those moments when you know it makes a difference in teachers' lives and children's lives that's why you do the work," Lang said.

The team is planning to evolve the program for next year to work with three childcare centers where they can train someone to be the in-house coach.

"We think this is a more sustainable model going forward," she said. "Its similar to how military childcare operates their programs."

Lang said that the VLS Momentum team, which includes eight staff members, three undergraduate and two graduate research assistants, and a post-doctoral scholar, has made two international and one national presentation on the program and has two papers in development that will be submitted to academic journals.

VLS Momentum received a Community Engaged Program Award as part of Ohio States 2021 University Outreach and Engagement Awards.