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Selkirk College ECCE Program Turns 40 and Looks Towards Bright Future for Sector

As the Selkirk College Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Program moves into its fifth decade of providing quality training for a new era of frontline workers, those who have laid the groundwork say now is the perfect time to enter the rewarding career pathway.

The ECCE Program marked 40 years of inspiring education at a gathering that brought together pioneers and recent graduates of the Castlegar-based program that welcomed its first cohort to the regional post-secondary landscape in 1979. Since that time, hundreds of Selkirk College alumni have gone onto careers in a field that nurtures children in the early years and provides vital care options for working families.

“It’s amazing to look back,” says Minister of Children & Family Development Katrine Conroy, a member of the first graduating ECCE Program class at Selkirk College. “When you are student here 40 years ago, it’s nose to the grindstone with all the work you need to do to become an early childhood educator. To come back here as the minister responsible for this area, it’s certainly not something I would have expected.”

Raised in the Castlegar region, after Conroy graduated from the one-year program she worked in local daycares and soon became the Executive Director of the Kootenay Columbia Childcare Society, now known as Kootenay Family Place. As a leader in the sector, she also taught in the ECCE Program and helped the college open the Children’s Centre on the Castlegar Campus in the mid-1990s.

Conroy was first elected as MLA for Kootenay West in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009 and 2013. When the NDP took power in Victoria after the 2017 provincial election, Conroy was appointed Minister of Children & Family Development where she has helped the government introduce progressive changes to the early childhood care sector. Millions of dollars have been allocated to measures that make childcare more affordable for parents and provides vital supports through wage increases and training for those choosing a career in the field.

When the most recent provincial budget was introduced, Conroy says she became teary-eyed while sitting in the Legislature.

“It was really personal,” she says of the commitment her government has made. “When you advocate for something for so many years, to hear that actual real change is coming… it was very emotional. We now have incredible support throughout government, everybody recognizes the importance of early childhood care and education.”

Like many gathered at the ECCE Program’s 40th anniversary celebration on the Castlegar Campus this past spring, Conroy credits her passion to the pioneers who started the training in the West Kootenay. Judy Pollard and Selma Sheldon created the program in the late-1970s with the former providing inspiring mentorship at Selkirk College for 25 years.

“It was always in me from a young age, but having instructors like Judy and Selma made it flourish in me,” says Lynn Reid Proulx, an ECCE Program grad in 1982 and leader in the regional sector for the last 34 years. “They gave me confidence to know that I can do this work and be an advocate. They mentored me in advocacy and were so passionate about it, you couldn’t help but get on board.”

Pollard, who retired from Selkirk College in 2003 and was presented with the Distinguished Educator Award in 2016, was a provincial leader in the sector in both education and advocacy.

“I’m honoured that people pick up my passion,” said Pollard. “When I see a former student out in the community working or advocating for a better system, I get really emotional because it shows that they have that same passion.”

When it comes to the changes to early childhood care and education that her former student and the current NDP government are making, Pollard is proud to have poured her energies into helping create a strong system.

“It’s incredible what we have going on this province right now, we are now the leaders in Canada and even North America,” she says. “There is this groundswell in society, I think people now get the idea that this is important work and it’s important for all our futures.”

One of the longest running programs of its kind in British Columbia, the Selkirk College ECCE Program is considered a model for delivering the education and training needed for graduates to flourish in the rewarding career.

“This program is so important,” says Lynne Reside, a board member on the Early Childhood Educators of BC who spoke at the 40th anniversary event. “It’s vital to have trained early childhood educators who understand child development and are committed to it. The college has a big part to play in it because this is a field that, in my mind, is the most important job in the world. These are children in the prime of their brain development and you can make such a difference in their lives.”

Like other leaders in the sector, Reside says there has never been a better time to enter a career in early childhood care and education.

“When you have a government that is standing up and getting the changes we needed to see happen, it gives a lot of confidence to those entering this field,” she says.

Seats are still available in the ECCE Program for the upcoming Fall Semester and there are several options that include both classroom and blended online delivery. Learn more at selkirk.ca/ecce.

PHOTO CUTLINE:The Selkirk College Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Program celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Castlegar Campus bringing together sector leaders, alumni and recent graduates.