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Golden Gate early childhood program heading toward ‘real-world’

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has begun to offer an early childhood education certificate program to better meet the growing needs of child care in the West and across the country.
Faculty of the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary designed the 14-hour Certificate in Early Childhood Education to be “user-friendly,” with most classes scheduled on evenings and weekends so church staff and preschool workers, preschool teachers and directors and seminary students can have more freedom to take the classes and earn the certificate in a year.
“The mission of Golden Gate is to design programs of learning and training that equips students to be effective leaders in the real world,” said Rodrick Durst, the seminary’s academic dean. “There is no church in the world that doesn’t have the need to minister to children and young families.”
The program started last fall with a handful of students and, as it grows, associate professor of Christian education Don Simmons said it can meet a big need locally to the seminary. “There is a huge protest in San Francisco about the lack of child care,” he said. “Historically, Southern Baptist churches have led the way in California in child care to meet community needs.”
But as state standards become more stringent and prices for child care continue to rise, churches need to become even more equipped to fill this need, said Shera Melick, an adjunct professor at Golden Gate and director of its on-site child development center. “Our churches stand empty all week long, and if we use our facilities during the week, we’re meeting needs and winning many families to Christ,” she said. “As a seminary, we’re interested in reaching the world for Christ, and this is a tremendous tool to reach people in our communities.”
Melick and Simmons, who both have had previous experience in directing large preschool and child-care programs out of churches, proposed the certificate program to the seminary last year. Designed for people who are already working in the field or for seminary students who want education in this area, the early childhood education certificate aims to teach how to put together and run a preschool on a church site or train someone else to do it.
They designed the program to meet California child-care standards, which are among the highest in the country. Classes include child, family and community relations; health, nutrition and safety in early childhood education; intercultural issues; human growth and development; and administration. Students in the certificate program also select a Christian education course to complete their education.
“The credentials students earn will stand the test of real-world licensing,” Durst said. “The standards are very specific about what you have to offer as a minimum, but there are no restrictions to what you can add on to or put in. So we can put it all in a Christian framework.”
In addition, the seminary has the on-site child development center for students to observe or work in. Though the center exists mostly for seminary students’ children, it is also open to the surrounding community and is, therefore, a mission field. “We have children from 44 families in the community, mostly from unchurched or non-Christian backgrounds, representing many ethnic groups,” Melick said. “We have children that speak French, Farsi, Chinese, Romanian and Portuguese.”
Melick said the Christian teachings at the center have sparked some interesting conversations with parents. “One mother told me she grew up in a home where they didn’t believe in God,” she said. “But her little girl told her the story of the Good Samaritan because she had learned it that day, and her mother had to go look it up. She said she would have to read the Bible to keep up with her daughter.”
Durst said the child development center at Golden Gate attracts the community not so much by what it teaches, but by its character. “They trust its values of honesty, kindness and creativity, and they see that the students who lead the classes want to do this,” he said. “Having pastored two churches that had child development centers, I believe ours is the most effective I’ve seen at sharing Christ with under-evangelized people.”
Melick said a child development center could greatly enhance a church’s ministry. “I think it’s a ready-made community need that we as churches can fill and simultaneously draw in families to build the church,” she said. “I hope our students will understand the opportunity that’s there and want that capability.”

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