The foundation plans to put this idea into practice at a new facility called Educare of California at Silicon Valley, a new branch of the Educare model. Funded by various foundations, nonprofits, local governments, and school districts, the facility will care for roughly 168 children, from infancy to 5 years. It will be located on an elementary-school campus in the Santee neighborhood of San Jose, and is scheduled to open in August 2015.
In addition to providing high-quality child care to at-risk kids, the facility will also offer a training institute to coach day-care workers in child development and best teaching practices. Mani likens it to the concept of a teaching hospital, only for the day care set. "Day care is often thought of as changing diapers and making sure young kids are safe," says Lisa Kaufmann, director of early learning services at the Santa Clara County Office of Education and one of the founders of this day-care center. "How do we make sure that training is as important as what is taught in the 12 grade or calculus?"
Currently, day-care workers do not have to hold bachelor's or even associate degrees. Instead, in the state of California, they receive permits as a form of credentialing and must spend a certain number of hours working in supervised day-care settings. A child-development assistant, the lowest level worker in a classroom, for instance, must complete six semesters of coursework in child development or early-childhood education, and must accumulate at least 105 hours of professional work in order to receive a five-year permit. As the teachers rise up the ranks from assistant teacher, to teacher, to master teacher, to supervisor, the state requirements become more stringent.
The training at the Educare of California at Silicon Valley will go beyond these basic requirements to hone a teacher's individual classroom style. The teachers will receive one-on-one coaching to help them run a classroom in a more dynamic way, create lesson plans for a particular subject, or boost the skills of individual children while still paying attention to the whole classroom.
Part of the inspiration for this branch of Educare in Silicon Valley comes from the Colorado, where Mani once worked and where she helped to found the Institute at Clayton Early Learning in Denver. There, professional coaches work with teachers both at on-site daycare facilities as well as in the community. They observe teachers in classrooms and offer one-on-one feedback to improve teacher effectiveness. The in-house coaches often work with the lead teachers in each room, who then, in turn, coach the more junior day-care workers.
This level of training matters, Mani says, because it can transform a routine activity, like eating lunch, into an opportunity to learn. In the hands of a skilled worker, for instance, a family-style meal can turn into a conversation about food or texture. Children and their caregivers can talk about the expectations of how to behave at mealtime, and kids can practice holding cups, utensils, and pitchers. "If I do not have knowledge of child development [as a day-care worker]," Mani says, "than that just becomes another activity that I have to manage."