By Aleksandra Sidorova
In partnership with the Early Childhood Education and Human Development and Family Relations academic departments, the Child Care Center at SUNY Plattsburgh opened a paid internship position for upperclassmen students. As of the third week of the semester, six interns have been selected. Four are already working at the daycare for about 20 hours a week, earning minimum wage.
The paid internship is aimed at SUNY Plattsburgh students majoring in education or human development and family relations. It is designed to complement their coursework, provide practical experience and expose them to work in the area of early childhood education, which can later turn into employment. Interns are expected to complete workshops, familiarize themselves with the curriculum used at the daycare, select and co-create lessons and work with small groups of students.
“You have to be able to negotiate a lot of things at the same time — that’s part of the fun of it,” Child Care Center Director Sally Girard said.
They also work with the different professionals and service providers for children at Sibley Hall — occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language therapists, special instructors and others.
“Our interns would actually have an opportunity to see what’s going on there, which mimics what happens in not only early childcare settings, but schools,” Maureen Squires, associate professor and chair of teaching education, said. “So if our students graduated here and went to school, they would get to see that. They would see the collaboration, and they would be part of that.”
For the daycare, the internship invites extra “helping hands,” as one of its goals is to attract college students to work in early childhood education settings.
“[The internship] really allows [students] to get a foot in the door, so to speak, and see what it’s like to work in a daycare setting, and then, hopefully, entice them to continue working in that setting.” Squires said.
Some other benefits interns bring to the daycare are enthusiasm and new ideas.
“[Interns] come in eager and excited, and they offer a whole new element to our early childhood program,” Girard said.
To apply, students submit an application form, letters of recommendation and complete an interview.
If selected, they may also go through health and background checks.
According to Girard, parents responded to the internship positively, noting that it is “so good” for children to be surrounded by “knowledgeable and competent adults” who are “invested” in them. Squires is herself a parent of a 3-year-old child enrolled in the center, and said she had no concerns.
“Maybe it’s also because I am a faculty member, and I understand the importance of observations, so I don’t mind at all that there are student interns in the room,” she said. “I think it’s good for my kiddo to actually see a range of adults in the room. I think it’s great for the interns in there, as well. I also have a lot of trust in the daycare.”
One of the interns — senior graduate student Whitni Izzo, who is pursuing a master’s in special education, works with preschoolers. She has experience working with elementary school children, but wanted to try a nontraditional setting.
“I’ve been learning a lot about just working with the younger years, because I’ve been working in kindergarten, first grade with set lesson plans, but here, [the children] have been interacting with each other in free time, play time, and during circle time,” she said. “I just work with them one-on-one.”
Izzo likes the individualized approach she is able to have with children at the Child Care Center, as she wishes to work in a pediatrics office in the future. The internship is also flexible and convenient to her, as the daycare is close to her off-campus housing, and she is able to take breaks, such as during finals week.
Another intern — Emily Scholler, a senior early childhood education major with a concentration in special education — has continually worked at the Child Care Center since spring 2019. But now, she reports having more responsibilities.
“[In my previous experience working at the daycare], it would be more of just going with the kids and playing with them, and doing snack time, and now, I get to plan academic experiences — small group time — and I do more of greeting parents and writing in [children’s] notebooks,” Scholler said. “We write about how they eat each of their meals and about how their day went.”
The internship works well with Scholler’s schedule, as most of her classes are at night. It also helped her make her decision to continue working in early childhood education after she graduates.
“Personally, I would like to work with small children. I’d like to do early intervention, so this is like the perfect experience to have before I do that, to really know that this is a field I want to go into,” Scholler said.
Funding for the internship has been secured for the whole year, but Squires and Girard hope to be able to continue the program for longer.
“It’s very limited. It’s a great opportunity, but to only give us three semesters to try this out isn’t very much time,” Squires said. “Maybe, if the state sees that this is worthwhile, they would renew [funding] and give us money for another year, and another.”
They advocate for the importance of early childhood education, especially in settings outside of traditional schooling, like the Child Care Center.
“[Affordable and accessible daycare] is not readily available in the North Country, and it’s really a broader issue. It’s a national issue.” Squires said. “So something like [this internship], even though it’s really small, it’s a movement in the right direction: we’re actually acknowledging the importance of this field.”
Girard shares this view.
“Our society undervalues early childhood education, particularly when it comes to education outside traditional classrooms,” she said. “Education at child care centers is just as valuable as that of school settings.”