Eight preschoolers transitioned from play time to circle time. As the children began to take their places on the rug, one little boy refused to leave his blocks. The tell-tale signs of a temper tantrum began. Angela Terrero, a teacher assistant, approached him calmly with a visual cue in hand—a picture of a group of children sitting in chairs, which our non-verbal students recognized as “circle time.” She gently talked the little boy through putting his blocks away, and persuaded him to follow her back to his friends. Tantrum averted.

The demands of raising her daughter made it challenging for Terrero, who has a high school education, to find stable work that fit her child care schedule. She worked part time at a beauty salon for awhile, but her child care needs were too high, so she had to quit her job and was unemployed.

But last year, Terrero enrolled in our Grow Your Own Workforce Development Program (GYO), which is designed to recruit and retain new early childhood educators in New York City. The program exposed her to strategies for working with children with special needs, which she is now applying both at home and in her new role as a certified teacher assistant at the Kennedy Children’s Center, a public special education preschool in New York City. She is prepared to meet the needs of her students and is determined to enroll in college next year to become a certified special education teacher.

As the executive director of the Kennedy Children's Center, Terrero’s story fills me with pride and hope for cultivating a new generation of preschool teachers. One of my biggest challenges is finding teachers who are qualified to work with our unique population of nearly 400 3-to-5-year olds.

The children we serve have a range of developmental delays and diagnoses, including more than half who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. All students in our program have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that specify learning goals and services that our staff members are responsible for delivering—but the reality is that there is a significant shortage of early childhood special education teachers and teacher assistants who are qualified to do this demanding work.

Read the full article about Grow Your Own by Sean Gallagher at EdSurge.