Dear Editor:

The cost of education should not be a debt sentence for Canadian students if the investment in learning balances the proverbial budget in our society by promoting personal and professional growth.

When 10 graduates celebrated the completion of their 300-hour education in the Entry to Early Childhood Education pilot-program at the Akisqnuk First Nation banquet hall on Friday, April 21st with their friends and family, the Columbia Valley community gained a rich and bright new future.

The Eva Joseph Learning and Cultural Society partnered with Katherine Bonell, the program developer and lead instructor who also opened the Rural Communities Early Childhood Institute in March 2015 to address the shortage of entry level early childhood educators in the East Kootenay region, to offer the pilot-program between January and April.

The duo applied for and thankfully received a social initiative grant from the Columbia Basin Trust, so students only had to pay $397.64 for the coursework. The funding was also used to create a 10-week community playgroup at the Akisqnuk First Nation Eva Joseph Family Centre, which students offered with their instructor at no-charge to families with children of all ages.

Ms. Bonell helped students develop evidence-based portfolios which can be used to apply for prior learning assessment credit at post-secondary institutions that offer an accredited Early Childhood Education program, which I believe will only make the community richer in the long-run.

In addition, students from the program tackled a provincially accredited health, safety and nutrition course through the Lethbridge College, so they can apply to the Ministry of Children and Family Development for an Early Childhood Educator Assistant Certificate after completing the program.

The East Kootenay region has the highest number of vacant early childhood educator positions in the B.C. interior, especially for early childhood educators who have an Indigenous ancestry, according to a recent report published by the East Kootenay Child Care Task Force.

It is heart-warming to see a community triumph that caters to the shortage of qualified and trustworthy child care options, which are sorely limited.

While I sense many an eye roll and several throaty scoffs in tow for my enthusiasm for educational opportunities being funded by the community, as opposed to paid individually out of pocket, it has to be said that students here have now had the opportunity to enrich their lives as well as the lives of others. It would be in the communitys best interest to promote programs such as these moving forward.

Breanne Massey