MISSOULA -- The state Board of Education has approved new programs in early childhood education at the University of Montana, UM Western and Salish Kootenai College.
At its meeting last week, the board approved and accredited the programs, which will create minor endorsements for degrees at UM, as well as bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education at the other two schools.
The new programs deal specifically with preschool through third grade, also referred to as P-3. The board approved the P-3 teaching endorsement last year.
The programs' approval followed a similar vote by the Montana Board of Regents earlier in the year.
Susan Harper-Whalen, associate dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences at UM, said the new endorsement will function in a similar way to the one the school already offers for special education.
“Students who know they want to work with small children and want that specialty can be a part of this program,” she said.
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The Board of Education also approved a P-3 teaching endorsement for one of the tracks of UM’s master’s degree program in early childhood education, the only one in Montana.
Harper-Whalen said they have both a standard path master’s degree in early childhood education, as well as an advanced track option for students who already have an extensive background in the field.
UM's master of education in early childhood education degree recently ranked 10th on a list by SuperScholar in the best online master’s degrees in that field.
Harper-Whalen said the degrees are very important, even though Montana does not have a universal prekindergarten program.
“It’s a faculty shortfall around the nation,” she said.
UM Western and Salish Kootenai College will launch their P-3 education bachelor's degree programs in the fall.
In December, Montana received a $10 million-per-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand access to early education in 16 communities across the state. Part of the funding will go to scholarships for students seeking degrees in P-3.
“I think we are going to build such a strong corps of leaders for early childhood ed in Montana,” Harper-Whalen said.