Gates/WSU child care program in doubt

PASCO — Hortencia Dominguez Ferrusca's first chance to go to school came as an adult.

The Pasco resident is one of 109 Spanish-speaking child care providers who have benefited in the last three years from a program that is almost out of money.

Pathways, a program of Washington State University's Franklin County Extension, helped her become more literate in Spanish. It is designed to strengthen literacy and teach child development.

Now, she's taking vocational English as a second language classes and training for a child development associate certificate offered by Columbia Basin College as part of the project.

But the future of Pathways, also known as Literacy and Education Pathways for Latino Child Care Providers, is uncertain as a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation comes to an end.

The grant was supposed to run out March 31, but the WSU Extension will be able to stretch the money through July, said Laurie Sherfey, WSU Extension director. That will allow the 20 students in stage 2 of the program to complete the CBC course.

There still are about 35 providers in stage 1, which includes primary and secondary education in Spanish, she said.

That's the portion of the program Sherfey hopes to continue after July.

The primary and secondary education classes, which are offered twice a week, would require a part-time teacher for about 10 hours a week, Sherfey said. She estimates the bare bones program would cost about $600 to operate, including materials.

The extension is already opening up those classes to Spanish-speakers who aren't child care providers, Sherfey said. No Gates Foundation grant dollars are used for those adults.

Local child care providers who want to use the program already have, Sherfey said. And there is a need in the community for primary and secondary education in Spanish for adults.

Those who aren't literate in their first language have a harder time learning a second, Sherfey said.

Pathways could become a first step to help Spanish-speaking adults get the point that they can pursue other education, including programs offered at CBC, she said.

Dominguez Ferrusca said in Spanish that she was glad to hear the program would be opened to those who aren't licensed child care providers.

The classes can help others in the community, such as parents who, with more literacy, can help their children with homework and school, she said.

To fund such a program, Sherfey said the WSU Foundation is helping her look for employers and community supporters who would be willing to help, she said. And she's continuing to look for grants.

Also, Sherfey is working on a Spanish book for parents and child care professionals that would be used for instructing children. She's hoping to sell the book as a fundraiser.

Those in the program aren't charged, which allows Pathways to use curriculum from Mexico for free.

Sherfey and Alissa Schneider, Pathways project coordinator, consider Pathways a success. The program began as a pilot project in 2007 with donations from Women Helping Women Fund Tri-Cities and Bank of America.

They have data from daycare visits during which the staff scored providers, as well as personal stories from the adults that illustrate how the program has helped them improve instruction for the children they care for.

Sherfey said the program met its goal of helping 100 providers.

About 60 providers will have achieved the child development associate certificate as of July, she said.

And Schneider said the program has helped the adults involved realize that education is something they still can have.

Dominguez Ferrusca said her education is benefiting the five children she cares for at Hortencia's Daycare.

She said she's learned how to teach math and reading and now sets and follows a schedule for her day care.

The program also has helped her increase her professionalism, she said.

"Kids learn through playing, and everything can have a purpose," she said.

Donations can be sent to the Pathways program at WSU Extension Development Office, c/o Linda Bailey, P.O. Box 646228, Pullman, WA 99164-6228. Donors should indicate that it is for Pathways.