PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. – Kathy Diamond has spent the last 30 years teaching preschoolers.
“I’ve been doing it all my life. I just love kids," she said. But much like public school teachers, she's become a part of a dwindling group of preschool educators that are leaving programs like Learning Empowered with more preschoolers than it has educators to teach them.
“In this facility, we need about seven additional teachers," said Learning Empowered Executive Director Lisa Negrini. “Right now, we have three closed classrooms that are not open, and we have 45 kids on the waiting list, and it’s growing everyday.”
According to the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, there are more than 300 preschool teaching and teaching aide positions unfilled in the county, and more than 1,500 children on waiting lists, waiting for those instructors to be hired. Andrea Mendoza's daughter made it into the preschool program at Learning Empowered, but her seven-month-old is still on the waiting list, and it's becoming a financial struggle for her family.
“If I can’t get someone to help me," Mendoza said. “Then I have to call off (from work) and I have only so many call outs and it really is difficult.” In the meantime, Diamons has her work cut out for herself, but she says hers is a rewarding career that she wouldn't trade for anything.
“If you have a heart for kids and you love kids,” Diamond said. “Then you’ll do great.” Officials at the ELC say there's funding available to offer new employees on the job training at a college education all while they earn a salary.
“People can enter this field where they are right now," said ELC of Pinellas executive director Lindsay Carson. “And the Early Learning Coalition can offer that initial training even sign on bonuses, free classes. In fact you can even get a Bachelors degree while you're working in an early learning setting and get paid along the way.”