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Mayor Bowser Highlights Early Childhood Education Initiatives, Celebrates First Step CDA Program

Thursday, July 13, 2017

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Today, Mayor Bowser celebrated the first cohort of graduates from DC’s First Step Child Development Associate (CDA) program and also highlighted the financial and educational supports the District is offering child care providers and educators to assist in meeting the new licensing regulations for early childhood workers in DC. The Mayor was joined by Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles, State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang, students in the First Step program, and early childhood educators.

“Positive learning opportunities in early childhood can last a lifetime,” said Mayor Bowser. “Our child care providers and educators are committed to doing what is best for our youngest learners, and now we are ensuring that more professionals have the resources and tools they need to succeed.”

First Step, a two-year program that launched in the 2015-2016 school year, provides high school students with an opportunity to earn the nationally recognized CDA credential while simultaneously completing their high school graduation requirements. Through an innovative partnership with the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, First Step students are paid while working toward the practicum hours necessary to be eligible for a CDA credential. On June 14, the first cohort of students graduated from the program. While celebrating the seven graduates, the Mayor announced that over the next three years, First Step will expand to support 150 high school students.

“First Step underscores our commitment to improving early childhood education across the District of Columbia,” said Deputy Mayor Niles. “This partnership will ensure that our youngest learners have the high quality support they need and provide high school students with innovative, hands-on learning experiences in and out of the classroom.”

The Mayor also announced that the District recently purchased licenses for Quorum, an online platform that will provide all licensed providers and their staff unlimited access to training courses, including health and safety courses and training toward the CDA credential.

Additionally, in her fiscal year 2018 budget, Mayor Bowser invested an additional $1.2 million in the District’s Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) program. T.E.A.C.H. is a scholarship program for employed teachers and staff members working toward an associate’s and/or bachelor’s degree. A nationally recognized wage enhancement and teacher retention program, T.E.A.C.H. supports child development staff with tuition costs, career advisors, and compensation bonuses or raises.

Tiffany Williams, Chief Program Officer for the Healthy Start early childhood program at Martha’s Table, said the degrees her teachers have received through T.E.A.C.H. are reflected in improved program quality and student outcomes.

“We’ve seen that having a well-trained workforce not only drives what our early care teachers do in the classroom, but perhaps just as importantly, helps to inform them on the why we do it that way,” Williams said. “Having the degree has definitely helped our teachers be more intentional in their approach to their work; they have gained a deeper understanding of children and how they develop.”

Eben Benavides, a 2017 graduate of Capital City Public Charter School and a member of OSSE’s first cohort of First Step CDA students, said his First Step experience helped him understand the intricate ways in which children learn and how to best support them in reaching critical early childhood developmental milestones.

“Now that I have earned my CDA and graduated from high school, I am more confident than ever in my ability to adequately care for DC’s earliest learners and engage parents in their child’s development,” Benavides said. “This experience has been invaluable in helping drive my desire to pursue an advanced degree and a career in early childhood education.”

In December 2016, new licensing regulations for early childhood workers in DC went into effect. The new regulations seek to improve the quality of early childhood programs by ensuring that the early childhood workforce meets new minimum education requirements.

“An educated early childhood workforce equipped with an understanding of brain development and the skillset and competencies for supporting development, can have a profound impact on a child’s success. We are proud that DC has raised the bar to improve the credentials of our early childhood workforce,” said Superintendent Kang. “OSSE is working to sustain, accelerate, and deepen the progress being made in DC education – and that means making sure our youngest learners have a strong start through high-quality care.”

“Knowledge is power and requiring our teachers to get a degree in early childhood education will significantly benefit our children’s learning outcomes and future successes in life,” said Dr. Keesha Blythe, Executive Director of the Early Learning Center at National Children’s Center, which serves infants, toddlers and preschoolers with and without disabilities from birth to 5 years old. “T.E.A.C.H. scholarships allow teachers the opportunity to not only meet the credentialing requirements but to be able to afford to go to school to increase their skills, knowledge and good judgement over our most precious population.”

Earlier this year, Mayor Bowser launched Thrive by Five DC, the District’s first comprehensive childhood health and learning initiative. At the center of the new initiative is, a one-stop service center that will help parents and caretakers navigate the city’s wide range of early health and learning resources. connects families to resources that support maternal and child health, behavioral health, and early education. In addition, the fiscal year 2018 budget includes $11 million to create more than 1,000 additional infant and toddler seats; identify three new sites in District-owned buildings that will be leased to private child care providers to provide affordable, accessible high-quality care; and help 300 DC residents gain certification as educators for infants and toddlers.

To learn more about the comprehensive supports the District provides its early childhood development workforce, visit