Currently employed as one of the three senior managers who oversee all of the licensed childcare programs from Penticton to Kelowna and soon to be Lake County for the YMCA Okanagan, Valarie Johnson got her start at Okanagan College.
While she had the opportunity to attend the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Okanagan College at the time the YMCA childcare programs were not yet available, however, over time she found herself drawn into what the Y had to offer.
“The quality of the early childhood education course at the college is incredible. The instructors have been a part of this community for a long time and understand the childcare needs as well as they adapt their program to meet the needs of learners as they come through the system,” explained Johnson.
She said it is important for the community to know that the professors at Okanagan College are experts at child development and they understand the needs of families as well as being a play partner with children to enhance their learning.
“Our YMCA staff along with students can speak to the value of play and how important the social and emotional learning piece that sets children up for school,” said Johnson.
She said Okanagan College is consistently reaching out to community partners to understand what is happening in the childcare programs to create a course that will set ECE students up for success.
ECE students are placed in practicums by their program coordinators, who work with community partners such as the YMCA Okanagan.
Johnson said that those in their first year have the opportunity to be placed in a childcare centre such as with the YMCA and observe.
“Many times students will come in and they don’t really know what a group childcare centre could look like so that first practicum is to allow them to feel the rhythm, flow and what it is like to work with children in a team setting.”
The second practicum gives students more responsibility, they can record keep, and build biographies for children that they want to work with, to better understand their needs. While the third practicum provides the opportunity for ECE students to take a lead role at a centre and actively plan the day-to-day operations.
A toddler practicum is one step further after a student completes the first three practicums where they have learned about older children and now are expanding their knowledge to infants and toddlers.
“There is also a special needs practicum, where they can continue their education, where they can plan for children with a diagnosis,” said Johnson.
The YMCA Okanagan takes students at all levels, in any practicum with multiple students attending centres at the same time.
“We try to engage students even in their first practicum and we can see that maybe a person has a great personality and skillset that could be a great addition to our team. They can add value to our team and we try to engage them in on-call and substitute opportunities,” explained Johnson.
While the YMCA does recognize not every student that attends the college will be from the Okanagan and may want to return home after the course, for those who enjoy the program and what this region has to offer Johnson and her team try to engage and keep the students when they can.
“When I talk to students who are in the process of taking their ECE at Okanagan College or have just finished, what really comes through is the preparedness. They feel prepared and ready to take on a childcare opportunity. Working in childcare can be difficult and come with fatigue, but what I see is these students come through will skills and tools that offer them resiliency and a way to manage their own stress, with communication and collaboration.”
Johnson said the tools that Okanagan College provides students for working in a team are important, and that it is necessary to have the proper dialogue and ability to go through conflict resolution in can what can be an intense setting.
“It is really what we are seeing when it comes to the quality of students attending Okanagan College.”
The YMCA Okanagan is continuing to grow and create new childcare spaces and with that hire new childhood educators. In theOkanagan centres include infant, toddler and preschool programs for children aged three to five as well as school-aged programs, including a preschool at the Y, after-school programs. Coming this fall there will be four new childcare centres opening.
There is also a YMCA childcare centre at Okanagan College in Kelowna, called the Little Scholars program for students attending the school and for staff who are working at the college.
“The thing about Kelowna is that sometimes it feels like a big city but it has a small community-connected feel and that is what we have with Okanagan College. We can connect with educators directly and collaborate and create the best experiences for students,” said Johnson.