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(Whitfield County, Georgia) – The next generation of Northwest Georgia students and Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) will benefit from a 1.2 million dollar gift headed their way. The State of Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning officially awarded the Early Education Empowerment Zone initiative grant in a ceremony October 3 to benefit the children of Catoosa, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, and Whitfield counties.

The announcement officially came from the department, also known as “Bright From The Start,” at a Dalton, Georgia event this past week. The grant will help build up the care and education programs in the Peach State, “…reducing the achievement gap for our most vulnerable children,” said State of Georgia Interim Commissioner Amy Jacobs in a recent media release.

Georgia Northwestern Technical College Director of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Susan Kendrick spent time with the visiting grant committee earlier this year and shared the factors behind the need for assistance in Northwest Georgia. “This will enable surrounding day cares, Head Start programs, and Pre-Kindergarten classes to hire additional child care teachers and assistant teachers,” said Kendrick.

With this new increased need for qualified professionals in the field of Early Childhood Care and Education, Georgia Northwestern will play a central role in developing those new specialists. Among the programs which are expected to see growth as a result are the Early Childhood Care and Education Associate Degree and Diploma programs, the Early Childhood Exceptionalities Certification, the Program Administration Certification, the Family Childcare Specialist Certification, the Infant/Toddler Child Care Specialist Certification, and the Childhood Development Specialist Certification programs.

Suzanne Harbin, Coordinator of the Whitfield Family Connection in Dalton, Georgia played a role locally in making the grant become a reality. “The collaboration and commitment to children and families in our community by everyone involved was outstanding,” said Harbin of the grant proposal process. “The cooperative spirit between agencies, businesses, and other interested entities throughout our community was quite evident during this process.”

The program will be implemented over the next 36 months. The new Bright From The Start initiative is designed specifically to help children from birth to eight years of age, as well as their families. Among the programs this state department oversees are Georgia’s Pre-K Program, all center-based and home-based child care facilities, and the state’s Head Start Program.

For those interested in training in the child care and education field to prepare for Northwest Georgia’s newest career opportunities, early registration for Georgia Northwestern is the week of October 13-17. The application and testing deadline is November 25, and final registration takes place on December 9. On-campus and online classes for spring semester at GNTC begin January 5, 2015.

Approximately 16,000 people benefit from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs, making it the largest college in Northwest Georgia and the fifth largest technical college in Georgia. Georgia Northwestern offers classes on-campus or online throughout the year. GNTC serves Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Murray, Polk, Walker, and Whitfield counties in Georgia with campuses located in Floyd, Gordon, Polk, Walker, and Whitfield counties.