FPU, Reedley College combine for A.A.-to-B.A. program

Fresno Pacific University and Reedley College are cooperating to create a program for early childhood education professionals based in Reedley

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Fresno Pacific University is the Mennonite Brethren institution located in Fresno, Calif. with regional campuses in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.

Fresno Pacific University and Reedley College have joined forces to improve opportunities for early childhood educators.

A dozen members of the Reedley College Early Childhood Education program are the first group of students studying for FPU’s B.A. in Early Childhood Development as part of a new cooperative program, where qualified Reedley students are guaranteed admission to the university and a 10 percent tuition discount. The university also helps students gain employment.

Participants progress straight from the associate program at Reedley into bachelor’s studies at FPU while staying in a familiar setting on a convenient schedule, a major plus for students for whom fear of the unknown, childcare and transportation are challenges, as well as finances.

“The pathway between the two institutions allows the students to transition to the university level without feeling overwhelmed and nervous as they begin their next level of education,” says Cynthia Kaitfors-Smith, FPU faculty member.

Bachelor’s classes take place on the Reedley College campus in FPU’s degree completion format, which encourages adult students to achieve their educational goals while balancing work and family responsibilities. Students meet one night a week in groups known as “cohorts” that stay together throughout an accelerated program for mutual learning and support

Work on the project began four years ago when Carol Gossett contacted Reedley College with a proposal she designed. Gossett is associate professor of education and director of the early childhood development program at FPU.

“It gives our students the ability to stay close to home on the campus they are comfortable with,” says Marcy Davidson, chair of the early childhood, education and health sciences department at Reedley College. “Our students are from rural areas, so a different population than Fresno City College or even Clovis Community College.”

Cohorts allow students to continue working at preschools, in childcare and early care and education programs or other employment without adding travel time to FPU’s Visalia or Fresno campuses. This helps them bond quickly and feel safe and supported, Kaitfors-Smith says.

“For many the first week or two may be overwhelming but once in our program they settle in and succeed,” she says.

That was the case with Kaitfors-Smith’s first class.

“When I left six weeks later the ladies were confident, strong and excited to continue their journey with FPU,” she says.

Instruction takes place in Reedley College’s recently completed Early Childhood & Education Building that provides classroom space and a lab school for infants, toddlers and preschool children, where some students work.

“It’s a one-stop building,” Davidson says.

Liliana Gonzalez is one of the students learning in the classroom and putting lessons into practice at the lab school. The single mom appreciates that the FPU-Reedley program helps her balance work, motherhood and education.

“It has allowed me to continue my education and not have to drive far from home,” she says. “Being able to stay on campus where I work has also been a huge relief.”

The format, faculty members and fellow students have guided and supported Gonzalez in ways she never expected.

“Being able to come to class once a week and still have time for my son is another thing that I truly appreciate, Gonzalez says. “The devotions, the feedback and the closeness of my professors is something that I hold very dear to my heart. I knew the moment I signed with FPU it was the best thing to ever happen to me.”

Students transfer their associate of science-transfer degree (ATS-T) in early childhood education from Reedley College to the FPU bachelor of arts in early childhood development, finishing their bachelor’s degree in 18 months after a series of six-week classes. Graduates can then become lead teachers in early childhood programs, teach at state-funded preschools or in pre-kindergarten or transitional kindergarten classrooms.

That’s the goal for Haylee Poole, a 2013 Reedley College grad who worked in the field before joining this fall’s FPU cohort. She hopes to lead her own preschool class.

“Having the opportunity to attend a university much closer to home and the flexibility of being able to participate in just one night a week as well as the online component is something that is easier to do and commit to,” she says. “It is also helpful that I will be attending the same location for the entire program and the instructors will come to us when the next class starts.”

Despite her work experience, Poole is learning much.

“The in-class discussions with my classmates and instructors have been so helpful. [Faculty] have made me comfortable in going back to school after so long,” she says. “I am looking forward to new opportunities.”

One opportunity on the way is a PK-3 teaching credential program, which will authorize holders to teach students pre-school through third grade. And that’s not the only possibility for these graduates.

“Some of these students might also go on to study psychology or social work, or medicine or law, any area that calls for a knowledge of children,” Reedley’s Davidson says.

FPU is also working to develop an A.A.-B.A. program with West Hills Coalinga: Firebaugh Campus. Both pacts build on similar pathways FPU has created with area K-12 school districts such as Visalia Unified, Chawanakee Unified in Madera County and Chaffey Joint Union in Ontario, CA.

Fresno Pacific University is the Central Valley’s accredited Christian university, offering undergraduate, graduate and seminary programs to more than 2,900 students on campuses in Fresno, Visalia, Merced and Bakersfield as well as online. A Hispanic Serving Institution, FPU ranks highly for improving graduates’ social mobility and being a “Best Value” in rankings by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly and Money.

Reedley College is located in Reedley, California, in the thriving agricultural region of California’s San Joaquin Valley. The campus community enjoys the unique combination of urban sophistication and rural values. Reedley College provides day and evening classes. Operated on an 18-week semester system, the college offers a fall and spring term, as well as four-, six-, eight- and 10-week summer sessions. Its mission is “To cultivate opportunities that empower our students and communities through engaging, equity-minded programs and services.”

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