A Light is Finally Shining on Early Childhood Education

chiara.png"Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program."

Those were words from President Barack Obama n his State of the Union address earlier this year. as he accentuated education as a priority, especially education from an early age.

SSU Education Professor Chiara Bacigalupa has worked in the field of education for 26 years, and is delighted that Obama has shined a light on early childhood education. The field is getting more attention, and there is a considerable amount of research that emphasizes the importance of these programs.

"There has been about 40 years of research showing that kids that are in a high quality early childhood program tend to do much better than kids who have not attended one," Bacigalupa said echoing the President's point. "... kids who were in these early childhood programs tend to have better outcomes."

Bacigalupa, who originally wanted to be a pediatrician, realized a couple weeks into medical school that it was not a good fit for her. She fell in love with early childhood education while working at UCLA Child Care Services.

After work, she used to spend hours in the basement of the UCLA library, reading issues of Young Children cover to cover. She learned a lot from that journal; it helped her realize what she wanted to do.

Bacigalupa, Associate Professor, Department of Literacy, Elementary, and Early Education, has successfully implemented a new major through the School of Education at Sonoma State addressing the need for early childhood educators.

Since its inception in fall 2012, the Early Childhood Studies (ECS) major received 99 transfer and 279 first time freshmen applications, demonstrating a high degree of interest in this particular field. Currently, there are about 53 students in the major.

SSU is one of only two CSU campuses offering a B.A. in ECS, the other being CSU Channel Islands. The program is unique in its hands-on curriculum and its emphasis on the importance of play-based learning.

"The education teachers here are so passionate about what they teach and bring the curriculum to life," ECS major Sara Healy said. "They made me more excited about my future career of educating children than I already was."

Originally majoring in psychology, Healy was "ecstatic" when she learned that the ECS major was finalized. She spoke with Bacigalupa and found a way to double major in psychology and ECS. Healy is set to graduate in May, receiving a bachelor's degree in both areas. She plans to apply to the credential program and someday teach preschool or kindergarten.

A majority of ECS majors are pursuing a teaching career, but others are interested in careers as a child life specialist or in social work.

Bacigalupa realizes that the early childhood field is changing, especially in regards to President Obama's aspirations for "universal preschool". Even though she is not certain when universal preschool will be implemented, Bacigalupa believes it will come to pass.

"The reason I think we'll get it is because that research is there," she said. "That if you have high quality early childhood programs, kids do better. We know that we want our kids to do better."

Universal preschool, she recognizes, will have its challenges, but in the long run, early childhood education has countless benefits.

For more information, contact Chiara Bacigalupa at chiara.bacigalupa@sonoma.edu or visit www.sonoma.edu/education.

- Sarah Dowling

TOP, Dr. Chiara Bacigalupa, Associate Professor, Department of Literacy, Elementary, and Early Education

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