First Graduates from Mercer’s Early Care Program
to be Honored on Wednesday

February 24, 2009

Mark Vanderhoek
(800) 837-2911, ext. 4037

McDONOUGH — The first five graduates of Mercer University’s Early Care and
Education Program, which was established in 2007 as the first in the state to offer a bachelor’s degree and certification, will be honored at a ceremony at Mercer’s Henry County Regional Academic Center. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will be attended by a number of state and regional officials who are at the forefront of early childhood education.

Mercer has been a pioneer in Georgia in birth through 5-year-old education and was the first to establish a program with an accredited Bachelor of Science in Education in Early Care and Education leading to birth-through-5-year-old state certification. The five graduates to be honored Wednesday entered Mercer’s program when it began in 2007 either as transfer students or from other Mercer programs and were able to graduate more quickly than the standard four years. The graduates completed their requirements in December.

“This is an outstanding group, and we wanted to honor these graduates for their pioneering spirit,” said Dr. Catherine Gardner, chair of Mercer’s Teacher Education Programs at the Henry and Douglas Centers and head of the Early Care and Education Program. “These students will be the first in the state to graduate with an Early Care and Education degree and state certification, and that is a major achievement for them and the University.”

Among the state officials expected to be on hand for the event are Dr. Marsha W. Lawrence, the regional program manager for the federal Region IV Office of Head Start, Hilda Tompkins, president of the Georgia Association of Young Children, Dr. Holly Robinson, commissioner of Georgia’s Bright from the Start program, and Dr. Deborah Wilkes, chair of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

“Early Childhood Care and Education is in the spotlight in Georgia and one of the reasons is the new birth through five educator preparation and certification programs,” Tompkins said. “We know for certain that high-quality early learning experiences are crucial to a young child’s readiness to succeed in school and in life. Through its PSC-approved Early Care and Education Program, Mercer University is producing graduates that will have the education and training they need to positively impact the lives of young children and their families.”

“The adoption of the Birth through Five Preparation and Certification rules by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission was the culmination of tireless efforts by a number of early care and education advocates,” Dr. Wilkes said. “The adoption of these rules, however, was only the first step to enhancing the quality of teachers who work with Georgia’s youngest citizens. I am very proud of our state and private universities, including Mercer, that have chosen to develop and prepare certified teachers to work in early care programs. I am equally proud of all the steps that our field has taken to improve the professional development of everyone working with young children. I think such efforts mirror my belief that education begins long before children enter school.”

About the Graduates:
Donnamarie Dane, of Dallas, is a kindergarten teacher at The Primrose School at Bentwater.
Sheila Davis, of Hampton, is a teacher at Sheltering Arms Stonewall Tell Center in College Park.
Misty Gresham, of Mableton, is a teacher at the Goddard School in Kennesaw.
Allison R. James, of Eatonton, is a head start teacher in Putnam County.
Jo Ann Thompson, of Social Circle, is a teacher at Kids R Kids in Conyers.

About Mercer’s Early Care and Education Program:
Evidence suggests that better care must be taken in the early years to educate children before they reach traditional school age in order to help students succeed in the classroom. The state of Georgia has launched an effort to require lead teachers at all early education centers to have bachelor’s degrees, and to eventually require certification.

The Tift College of Education has been the leader in the state’s efforts to design a statewide model for the curriculum and standards for early care degrees in the state. Additionally, Mercer has been charged with facilitating the development of statewide articulation agreements to support candidates as they move from two-year or technical colleges into bachelor’s degree programs.  To date, the University has received more than $680,000 from the state to fund those efforts.

The College introduced the early care and education program at the Henry Regional Academic Center in fall 2007 with an inaugural class of 21 students. Mercer expanded the program in 2008 to the University’s Atlanta campus and to the Douglas County Regional Academic Center in Lithia Springs. The program now enrolls nearly 100 students.

This Bachelor of Science in Education degree, with a major in early care and education, is designed for individuals who wish to be certified to teach children from birth through 5 years of age. Graduates of the Early Care and Education Program are qualified for administrative, certified teaching or social service positions with child care centers, Head Start programs, pre-kindergarten programs, social services agencies and other facilities designed for the care and development of young children.

About the Tift College of Education:
Mercer’s Tift College of Education is the largest private preparer of teachers in Georgia and offers a variety of professional education programs at its six sites. The College, the University’s largest with more than 1,750 students, holds the highest accreditation in the nation from The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. The College offers diverse programs and degrees, ranging from initial certification programs to doctorates. In addition to a Bachelor of Science in Education, which leads to initial certification, the school offers a Master of Education, Master of Arts in Teaching, Specialist of Education and Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, as well as a joint Master of Science in School Counseling with the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. The College will launch a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction in the fall of 2009.

About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has approximately 7,700 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah; three regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.
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