Aroostook agency to use $4.4M to strengthen early start education program

1 year ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook County Action Program will use $4.4 million in federal funding to boost hiring and staff retention in its early childhood education in The County.

Before fall 2023, ACAP is looking to fill 13 open teaching and support teaching staff positions in the Early Head Start and Head Start programs across Aroostook County, said Megan Barnes, director of Programs at ACAP. The locations for the teaching and support staff in Aroostook County span from Dyer Brook to Fort Kent.

The organization is seeking people who are qualified for education technician II, with a minimum of 60 college credits, and education technician III, with a minimum of 90 college credits.

ACAP received approximately $4.4 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help strengthen their Head Start and Early Head Start programs. It was one of three programs in the state to receive part of a $14.1 million federal package in May. The other two were Penquis CAP in Bangor with $5.7 million, and Southern Kennebec County, with $3.9 million.

Early Head Start, open to children from infant to age 3, and Head Start, open to children from age 3 to school age, provides early child care and educational instruction to support families who need a safe place for their children to go as stay-at-home parents transition back into the workforce, said Amy Murchison, program coordinator for ACAP’s early care and education.

“The children attend one of our classrooms, so they are getting that education piece and then there’s a family engagement component where the teachers and our coaches are engaging our families around school readiness,” Murchison said.

School readiness refers to the whole family as they progress through the Early Head Start or Head Start programs that are linked to health care like updated immunizations.

ACAP also got a 3.5 percent, or a little more than $300,000, increase in their state funding this year for cost of living adjustments for early child care workers in their Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

“Basically, the guidance that came for programing was investing in the workforce around retention and recruitment,” Barnes said.

ACAP has experienced challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff since the pandemic. Staff members must have certain education credentials, which is a minimum of an associate’s degree in early childhood or a related field.

ACAP will support staff through pay and health insurance benefit increases to make sure compensation is competitive for the early childhood education field.

A majority of the candidates ACAP has seen applying for early childhood education roles have been locally in Aroostook County. ACAP has also taken opportunities to speak with graduating seniors majoring in early childhood education and social services backgrounds from the University of Maine at Presque Isle and Northern Maine Community College. ACAP also provides employee education benefits for professional development.

“The trend to go toward collaborating and partnering with public schools only benefits the communities as a whole, because it increases quality of services and it allows families to access those greatly needed services,” Barnes said.

ACAP has eight partnerships throughout Aroostook County with public pre-K schools and works on getting kids ready to transition into public schools such as in SAD 1 in Presque Isle.