Newswise — The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education has received a $2.8 million gift to help expand the number of early childhood teachers in Chicago and surrounding areas.

The grant comes from Marjorie Pelino, who has a long history of aiding causes to help children and families from under-resourced communities.

It will cover a four-year period to fund a faculty project to develop and expand programing that will create a pipeline of early childhood education teachers. In addition, the project will provide increased access and opportunities for incumbent early childhood teachers to earn advanced credentials and degrees.

Pelino and her three daughters founded the Pelino Foundation, a family foundation, in 1996. Its focus is on providing opportunities to the disadvantaged, strengthening children and families and improving the quality of people’s lives. Grants focus primarily on education, health-related and social service programs for women and children in the Chicago area.

UIC’s gift is being made by Marjorie Pelino herself and is going to fund UIC’s efforts to increase and expand early childhood programming in the College of Education.  This effort will be led by Catherine Main, senior lecturer and coordinator of the UIC Early Childhood teacher preparation programs, with support from College of Education partners Kathleen Sheridan, associate professor in educational psychology and program coordinator of the Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Learning Program, and Victoria Trinder, clinical assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and program coordinator of the Bachelor of Arts in Urban Elementary Education Program. 

Pelino said she and her advisors at Strategic Philanthropy, Ltd. in Chicago were searching for vehicles to continue her philanthropic efforts when Main approached them with this proposal.

“I lean toward early childhood because I just feel that everything begins there,” Pelino said. “This program at UIC sounded exactly like what I would be interested in.”

The gift is to be divided over four years and will go toward addressing the early childhood workforce crisis in Chicago and surrounding areas. It will be done through a comprehensive approach targeting program development, enhancing programs, helping fund student scholarships and supporting efforts in the area of early childhood development in UIC’s College of Education, according to the proposal.

The effort comes as research has shown that high-quality early childhood care and education during the period of rapid brain growth of young children is integral for laying the foundation for success in school and life.

“If we are to reap the rewards of high-quality early childhood education programs for children and their families, then we must focus on the adults who care for and educate young children and the systems that prepare and support these early childhood educators,” Main said.

While research has shown the need, the reality is that there is an acute teacher shortage, high degree of teacher turnover and a lack of teacher diversity in lead teacher and administrative roles when it comes to early childhood education, according to the proposal. Across the state, the number of new teachers seeking licenses in early childhood education dropped by 56% over a 10-year period ending in 2017, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Chicago officials expect there will be a need for an additional 1,500 early education teachers over the next three years.

UIC’s proposal is designed to provide a wide range of students with the educational opportunity only a leading research university can offer, address the challenges facing Chicago and other large urban cities, foster scholarships and practices that reflect and respond to the increasing diversity of the United States and to train professionals in a wide range of public service disciplines.

“With the status as one of the nation’s premier urban public universities, UIC’s commitment to under-resourced communities and institutions separates it from the rest and makes it the perfect place to support teachers working with young children and their families in community-based programs,” Main said.

Pelino, who is a mother and grandmother, strongly believes that offering ways for children to be lifelong learners early on is crucial to help make a major impact on the lives of children, especially if they are in homes where families are struggling.

“From what I hear on television and read about, I know that if the children were exposed to education earlier it could change the course of their lives,” Pelino said. “I just feel like reaching these children at an earlier age would make a big difference.”

The gift comes as UIC approaches 72% of its $750M IGNITE Campaign goal, through which the university aims to support students, drive discovery, empower faculty and connect to communities. Pelino’s contribution will directly support the College of Education’s goals to prepare teachers, strengthen research and provide students a foundation for bright, successful futures.

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