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“Barrier” is a word that nobody wants to hear, but it’s a harsh reality to many students at Montgomery College. This is why “Identity,” the nonprofit that serves all of Montgomery County’s Latino youth, approached MC with the idea of a pilot program offering free child care classes in Spanish to members of their community. MC was all in. The concept–that “no barrier is insurmountable”—is an idea that both the College and Identity promote.

“All of our clients have some kind of barrier,” said Fresia Guzman, director of Youth Opportunity Centers at Identity.

Maria Artola (left) teaches the second half of the 90-hour course

Whether it is poverty, English as a second language, lack of a GED, or the challenges that come with being a first-generation American, Guzman said her clients were not thinking at all about college. She and her Identity colleagues want to encourage more people to pursue higher education.

“We can’t offer them a two-year associate’s degree,” said Guzman. “They need to work. They need to survive… which is why we started to talk to Montgomery College.” The College’s Karla Silvestre, director of community engagement, and Nelida Andres, interim program director for Early Childhood Education for Workforce Development & Continuing Education, were instrumental in launching the pilot program.

Maryland requirements for child care workers include 90 hours of classroom time for a teacher in a licensed child care facility. For people working a full-time job or parenting full time, which describes many of Identity’s clients, the time commitment for training can be overwhelming—especially when the course is taught in a language they don’t speak fluently.

It’s really empowering to see when students move from noncredit to credit…It’s an incredible pathway for them

Alan Marroquin, Identity’s workforce development specialist, provides career assessments and individualized plans for many of the 400 clients in the Youth Opportunity Centers, and he noticed a trend.

“We found out most of our clients [were most interested in] going to trade school,” said Marroquin. “So, we needed to find someone who could provide training that most of our clients don’t have access to.” With its mission of bringing college to the community, MC proved to be the perfect partner.

Alan Marroquin, Identity’s Workforce Development specialist; Fresia Guzman, director of Youth Opportunity Centers; and Monica Aigner, career coach

For four months, an MC professor goes to Identity’s Uptown Youth Opportunity Center in Gaithersburg every Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., to teach the required child care curriculum in Spanish. Graciela Semidey taught the first 45-hour course, Child Growth and Development, and Maria Artola currently teaches the second 45-hour course, Planning Curricula for Child Care.

If the students at Identity ever need inspiration to keep going, they need look no further than Artola: she, too, began her education with noncredit child care classes and now is an MC professor who runs her own family child care.

“She started with noncredit classes, moved on to credit, graduated from credit, got her bachelor’s, and now she’s almost done with her master’s,” said Andres. “It’s really empowering to see when students move from noncredit to credit…It’s an incredible pathway for them.”

This pathway extends well into a bright future, especially for those at Identity who wish to continue their education at MC. Silvestre noted that the College’s Office of Advancement and Community Engagement has allocated scholarship money for 30 Identity clients to take workforce development classes at MC. “This will be the next step in the partnership,” she said.

The Montgomery College Foundation is covering the tuition for the students, as well as removing transportation and scheduling barriers by holding the class on Saturdays at the Upcounty Youth Opportunity Center in Gaithersburg.

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