Throughout her professional career, Panu Lucier has always focused on promoting the advancement of youth and children. When she heard about the opportunity to work with Thread Alaska and Alaska SEED to advocate and support the early childhood workforce, she was all in. Alaska System for Early Education Development (SEED) is Alaska’s statewide system for the professional development of the early childhood workforce, those working with children ages birth through 8 years old. Advocating for the early childhood workforce is arguably one of the most important things we can do for our youth and children. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that 90% of a child’s brain develops before age 5,” Panu says, “Working parents need to know that their child’s caregivers have the skillset and knowledge they need to facilitate children’s growth and development. Unfortunately, the early childhood workforce is one of the lowest paid workforces in the country. They often don’t have the time or money to pursue professional development. Our goal is to advance our early childhood workforce so they can be the best educators they can be.”
Today, Panu is the Director of Alaska SEED, where she promotes professional development among the workforce which helps children and their families get access to high-quality early learning. “It is an opportunity to support families in a time when they need it the most,” she says, “We are here to help the community and the country realize the importance of supporting the early childhood workforce.” Alaska SEED is a team of three thread Alaska employees advised by a group of stakeholders who provide guidance and direction to the team.
Early childhood workers in Alaska are often paid between $12-$13/hour, which is hardly a living wage. They are often viewed as babysitters rather than professionals, and they usually do not receive benefits. As a result, they have a high turnover rate. “This high turnover rate is not good for children, who need consistency of care, especially as infants,” Panu says. Infant care workers are often the lowest paid among early childhood workers.
One of the many ways Alaska SEED helps early childhood workers advance professionally is by encouraging them to become a part of the SEED Registry for tracking professional development. Through the Registry, Alaska SEED is able to see where the early childhood workers are at in their professional development, provide them with a career pathway, and help them climb to get the education and certifications they need. Alaska SEED provides early childhood workers with reimbursement for training, university coursework and degree programs. They also connect their participants with scholarships available for their field, such as the University of Alaska Fairbanks scholarship for their early childhood education program. The Registry is available to anyone working in a childcare setting, including home-based businesses, after-school programs, and teachers for school-age children as well as birth through 8. Alaska SEED supports Camp Fire, the Boys and Girls Club, and Headstart to name a few.
Alaska SEED was foundational in developing Alaska’s Early Care & Learning Core Knowledge and Competencies (CKC), outlining the skills and knowledge early childhood workers need to succeed.
Alaska SEED is also working on the issue of wages for early childhood workers. “Most people won’t stick around in the field when a Bachelor of Arts is required for them to be paid so little,” Panu says, “Some workers with Masters degrees are being paid as little as $15/hour.” Alaska SEED has a contract with Johns Hopkins University to contribute to a national wage compensation study for early childhood workers, and they are hoping to implement a statewide plan based on the results, using national data to develop a wage compensation method for Alaska.
Panu draws from her culture and heritage in her work. “I am Alaska Native. My culture understands that our children are our future and that they need the knowledge and skills to carry us forward, even to survive for thousands of years. We created systems of family and community to teach our children for healthy communities. I bring those values to my work.”
If you would like to learn more about the work of Alaska SEED, visit them online at SEEDAlaska.org!