Pathfinders scholarship helps educators

Published 8:52 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ana Filpo knows what it’s like to have a teacher who had a direct impact on her life.

When she was attending high school in Georgia, Filpo found herself homeless. Her teacher learned of the situation and offered her a place to stay, but Filpo opted to stay with a friend instead.

But when that family’s financial situation changed, Filpo contacted her teacher and asked if the offer was still valid. It was.

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She ended up living with her teacher until after she graduated from high school.

Filpo, now 31, stays in contact with her teacher and now is an educator herself. She is the site supervisor at the Children’s Center location on Davis Boulevard in Suffolk, where she works with at-risk, preschool-age children.

“The little ones are so impressionable,” Filpo said. “Even though they may be struggling, we are like the consistent person in their life.”

Filpo obtained an associate degree in early childhood education in Georgia, but some of her credits didn’t translate to Virginia, so she had to start over.

That’s where the Project Pathfinders scholarship is helping her.

“Project Pathfinders is helping me to continue my education so I can have the skills to support these families and children,” said Filpo, who is attending Tidewater Community College. “It’s one less thing that I have to worry about.”

Funding for the new Project Pathfinders scholarship was made available by the 2016 General Assembly. During the fall semester of 2016, more than 80 scholarship recipients were enrolled in courses, and more than 100 applications were received for the spring semester.

The scholarship initiative is a partnership of the Virginia Community College System and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. People pursuing a career in early childhood development or early childhood education can apply for a Pathfinder scholarship to get funding for college coursework, certifications and credentialing in early childhood development and education at Virginia’s community colleges.

Megan Healy, assistant vice chancellor for academic services and employer partnerships with Virginia Community College System, said the system is excited about the opportunities.

“To produce quality child development workers, they have to have some type of education,” Healy said. “This is the perfect way we can raise the quality of child care development teachers and workers by offering them pretty much free tuition. I think this is a perfect opportunity, especially with the lower wages in that profession.”

Kathy Glazer, president of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, said there can be some barriers for people who would like to pursue a career in early childhood education. One is that there is no clear educational pathway.

“There are some barriers to them having access to a cohesive series of credentials and degrees and licenses they can obtain,” Glazer said. “There are some dead ends along the way; they may get started down one path and begin on a particular credential program that will not transfer well. That can be a really expensive proposition for a fairly low-paid workforce.”

Glazer said the scholarship and other initiatives in the works — including efforts to create a four-year degree for the profession — have eliminated some barriers.

“We see it has part of a broader initiative that we’re really promoting in the state — scholarships for these individuals and making sure we have seamless career pathways for this workforce.”

As for Filpo, she is glad for the opportunity to pursue more education.

“I feel like I have a wealth of knowledge, and I want to be able to spread my knowledge everywhere,” she said. “When you when you see them grow from where they started to where they are now, it’s a blessing to know you had a part in that. I’m not only teaching the kids but also the parents.”

More importantly, Filpo said, it’s important for educators to show kindness, just as her high school teacher showed when she took her in.

“I want to be the person who shows the kindness to someone who probably never had that kindness. I don’t think you can really repay that to someone.”

Applications for scholarships open for the summer session at community colleges on March 15.