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Project RISE Steers Current, Future Child Development Students To Jobs

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

January 29, 2013 - A workforce program helping students get on a career path in child and adult development is benefitting both those pursuing work in the field as well as the rising demand for services.

Project RISE – an acronym for Recruit, Inspire, Support and Educate – is an effort spearheaded by Donna Rafanello, the program’s director and a professor of child development at Long Beach City College (LBCC). Child development students and working professionals throughout the Greater Long Beach area are welcome to utilize the program’s services. Many program participants first began receiving support in high school and continue participating through community college and/or university.

It all started with Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) identifying a grant in 2006 to fund a new workforce development program. The Los Angeles chapter of the statewide First 5 program, which receives tobacco tax dollars to support young children in California, funded the grant. Rafanello said she collaborated with LAUP and used her experience writing grant proposals to come up with the baseline for Project RISE. “I knew I needed to have partners, a school district and university,” she told the Business Journal, “and I knew something needed to be done about career options” in child development.

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Using personal observations and existing data, Rafanello set out to define a program to educate youth on how to go about getting a teacher’s permit, certificate, degree or university transfer. The grant was awarded in fall 2007 to LAUP as the sub-contractor for First 5 L.A. It provided three years of funding – $973,590 in total – for both programs for young children and Project RISE.

“The idea is to help students to identify what they want to do – who they want to be in the lives of children and families – and then line up the credentials along the way so that they can achieve that,” Rafanello said.

The Long Beach Unified School District and California State University, (CSU) Dominguez Hills became involved in Project RISE initially in 2008. New transfer students from LBCC are paired with a senior child development mentor at CSU Dominguez Hills, according to Kimberley Radmacher, Ph.D., assistant professor and coordinator of the child development program at the university.

“Having a peer mentor eases the transition to the four-year institution and provides new students with the support and confidence needed to handle any challenges they may face,” Radmacher said in an e-mail. “Peer mentors also gain valuable leadership skills and the opportunity to give back to the program. A unique outgrowth of the program has been the faculty and peer relationships that extend beyond graduation building a community of scholars and professionals.”

CSU Long Beach joined Project RISE through Richard V. Tuveson, Ph.D., associate professor of child development and family studies with the department of family and consumer sciences at the university.

“One of the critical issues that students face when transferring from a community college to a four-year institution in Long Beach is their need for support in the form of counseling, mentoring and development of learning communities,” Tuveson said in an e-mail. “Current research shows that these elements can spell the difference between success and failure for community college transfers. This is what Project Rise provides and more. . . . There are numerous people contributing to the Long Beach community today who would not have graduated from college at all were it not for Project RISE.”

At the end of the three years, Project RISE established the following services and activities: specialized child development counselors; monthly information sessions for current and prospective students; classroom presentations by academic and university transfer services counselors; financial assistance for tuition, books, school materials and transportation; and an online orientation with information on courses, certificate and degree programs, career opportunities and job requirements, a vocational assessment and instructional courses available 24/7.

The project received a funding extension for another school year to the tune of $324,530. In 2011, First 5 L.A. established the Los Angeles County Early Care and Education Consortium with a five-year, $52 million investment. The consortium now supports Project RISE, guaranteeing its existence through the 2015-2016 school year.

This school year, Project RISE is serving 61 students in a group that includes cohorts of associate’s degree students, students pursuing transfer to a university, bachelor’s degree students and – a group added just last year – graduate degree students.

On the high school level, LBCC child development students have shared information on Project RISE with approximately 2,000 area high school students as the program’s outreach ambassadors. Current LBCC and CSU students are welcome to participate in advising and attend any workshops offered through Project RISE. About 500 child development students at LBCC receive specialized academic advising, and students on a path toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree receive one-on-one mentoring from those completing a bachelor’s or recently earned their degree.

“Long Beach City College recently did an analysis of transfer rates – how many students at the college go on to a CSU and how long it takes them,” Rafanello said. “The child development program is one of the highest achieving departments at the school. That, for me, is much more telling than the number of students [served throughout the program’s existence] because you can serve lots of students, but if you’re not making progress and they’re still staying for five years or 10 years trying to make their way in their careers, then that’s not much to show for it. I’m much more excited talking about students who had floundered for a tremendous amount of time and didn’t have the right information that are finally reaching us.”

Child development majors have a wealth of options for careers. In business, child development majors may look for positions as a children’s book author, toy developer, after-school childcare provider or nanny. In the community and political realm, jobs may include public policy coordinator, lobbyist, court worker or child development coordinator. Education jobs may include administrator, curriculum coordinator, early intervention specialist or teacher’s aide. Social services careers may include group home counselor, foster care coordinator and child abuse prevention specialist.

The steady increase in diagnoses of autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other behavioral conditions in children has resulted in a growing need for parent education and specialists trained in early intervention.

“Many of [the students] are interested in working outside of early childhood programs but working in some capacity with children and families,” Rafanello said. “There’s a strong connection between human services, social work, early childhood and child development degrees. They want to help families, but they don’t necessarily see themselves in a classroom setting. A lot of them are interested in parent education [and] early intervention, working with children who have been identified as having special needs. There’s a real interest and a real market for that.”