Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) is preparing to launch a new Early Childhood Education (ECE) associate degree program designed to expand the geographic reach of its current program through hybridized online classes.

The new program will allow students to complete the majority of their work online, with some required class meetings at the campus. Class meetings will take place Saturdays to accommodate those early childhood care providers who work Monday through Friday.

The program is being funded by a five-year, $250,000 grant from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, which was secured by the Maine Community College System Foundation. It is designed to improve the education and skill levels of providers of early childhood education in Maine and to be accessible to those already working in the profession for whom distance and scheduling obstacles make online classes ideal.

“It’s exactly the same degree as it is here on campus,” said Martha Naber, education program coordinator at KVCC. “The majority of the classwork will be online, so people are not traveling a lot, but they are coming occasionally and getting a sense that they a member of a class and that we are here as resources for them.”

The most unique aspect of the new program will be the way it handles the requirements for practicums – or supervised practical application of skills and theories studied in regular classwork. Students will be able to perform practicums at their current work sites, and will be visited there six times per semester by mentors approved by KVCC who will observe, provide guidance and set goals.

“So they will get direct feedback from somebody throughout the semester without faculty having to literally drive around the state to these sites,” Naber said. “That’s a very unique approach to doing practicums.”

A pilot version of the program will begin in January 2012 with 24 students from Knox, Waldo, Kennebec and Somerset counties. The goal is to offer the program to students statewide beginning in the summer of 2013.

Those interested in the program are asked to fill out intake forms available at KVCC. Contact the admissions office at 453-5131 or jbourgoin@kvcc.me.edu to obtain the forms.

Anyone with questions about the program should contact Naber at 453-5198 or email mnaber@kvcc.me.edu.

KVCC has offered an associate degree in early childhood education since 2001. The program typically enrolls 45 students each year and has articulation agreements with Thomas College, The University of Maine, the University of Maine Augusta, and a transfer agreement with the University of Maine Farmington.