Posted on Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Upskilling Virginia’s Early Childhood Workforce

Submitted by Craig Butterworth, PR coordinator, VCCS

It’s a veritable oasis in a childcare desert. That’s how one might describe the Davenport Institute for Early Childhood Development. The Institute, in partnership with four of Virginia’s “Rural Horseshoe” Community Colleges (Danville, New River, Patrick Henry and Virginia Western), has embarked on an ambitious pilot program that, at its core, is designed to make early childhood education a more attractive career option for those living in southern and southwestern Virginia.

The Institute offers a high-quality training program with a Career Studies Certificate upon completion. Executive Director Katie Thompson says many would-be students are themselves working adults with families, and that represents a formidable obstacle.

“We’re working on making class times very accessible. We’re also stretching it out over three semesters to allow them to accommodate their work schedule and still take classes comfortably.”

Access isn’t the only problem these students face. Some live in poverty and making ends meet is a daily challenge. Thompson says they’re working to remove that barrier as well through a system of scholarships and incentives that can be applied now and in the future.

“We are offering students a retention incentive so if they remain in the field for six months following their graduation, we will provide them with an additional financial incentive. So, we’re hoping they’ll stay in the field.”

As for the courses included in the Career Studies Certificate, Thompson says students are learning about general health and safety in the classroom, mental and physical development of children under age five, language and literacy, and art.

Ben Davenport, the Danville-area philanthropist who, along with his wife Betty, helped launch the Institute last October with a $1 million gift, says they are delighted by the progress that’s being made.

“We feel our investment in the future of children has been well placed with the Virginia Community College System. We are very pleased with the leadership chosen to head the project.”

Since joining the Institute in February, Thompson says she’s learned that students need to explore their career choices deeper and earlier.

“So, when they get to those later high school and college years they’ll know where they’re going, know they’ll enjoy it and be good at it.”

More than five dozen students have enrolled in the program that so far, boasts a promising 100 percent retention rate.

For more information about the Davenport Institute, please contact Katie Thompson at (540) 674-3641 or

CAPTION: The Davenport Institute for Early Childhood Education was made possible by a $1 million grant from Ben and Betty Davenport.'

Laura Osberger

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