Rhode Island College Offers New Youth Services Program

Hundreds of people work in before- and after-school programs throughout the region. While they have some specialized training, many do not have college degrees. For those workers who would like more background in youth development and earn a credential for their efforts, Rhode Island College has created a unique Certificate of Undergraduate Studies in Youth Services designed to help “professionalize” this growing field.

"The four-course program, which debuts this summer, is the first such program in Rhode Island and may be the only one of its kind in the region," said Mary Sullivan, director of the STEM Center at Rhode Island College. (The STEM Center is one of the state’s leading professional development centers for educators of science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies.) "It’s unique because it’s taught entirely by college faculty to a cohort of students, and it is a hybrid program, meaning that some course components are offered online, resulting in fewer face-to-face classroom sessions. Both aspects support student learning and flexible scheduling."

The Youth Services Certificate Program is designed for “informal educators” – those who provide and/or participate in the growing number of “outside of school time” activities, which include educational and enrichment programs.

“Lots of education of our young people happens in informal and outside of school settings,” Sullivan said. :”Many providers don’t have college degrees, yet want a credential that would be recognized in the field. That’s why it’s important to offer college-level coursework for providers, so they can incorporate the theoretical knowledge into their practice.”

The Youth Services Certificate Program is designed for people who may not be ready for the challenge or commitment of a college degree program, but want to achieve professional certification for the work they do. Those who complete the Youth Services Certificate Program are able to apply credits from the program towards a degree program, including a new major in Youth Development offered through the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development at RIC.

Rhode Island College developed the Youth Services Certificate Program in collaboration with the Providence After School Alliance (PARSA) and Rhode Island After School Plus Alliance (RIASPA), Sullivan said. They realized that many students spend as much – or more time – in “outside of school time” programs as they do in the classroom. So they wanted to bring “a degree of professionalism” to the field, which will benefit the providers and the programs.

A cohort of 18 people will be accepted into the program this year and students will go through the entire program as a group to take four courses -- one each this summer fall, winter and next summer.

The program also includes an online component, Sullivan said, including the creation of an online learning community in which participants will be encouraged to communicate with each other online, in real time, “to increase their knowledge. The program is a perfect one for The STEM Center to be involved with,” Sullivan said, because “in addition to the classroom, we’re using technology to provide content and foster learning.”