July 26, 2021

CDA Program Available At No Cost to Eligible Professionals

Looking to receive a Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential? Check out our programs to get certified, renew your certification, and more!

What is a CDA Credential?

A CDA Credential is the most widely recognized credential in the early childhood field and is a key stepping stone on the path to career advancement. The credential enables professionals to work in Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms, in addition to early learning programs across the United States, and provides opportunities for increased pay.



Trying Together’s CDA Programs

Trying Together offers the following CDA programs at no cost to eligible early childhood professionals in Pennsylvania:

CDA Credential Preparation Program

    • 135 hours of professional development over the course of six to nine months.
    • Focused on practice knowledge and skills professionals need to become credentialled.
    • Matriculate up to nine course credits at Carlow University once you obtain your credential.

CDA Credential Community of Practice Program

    • Focused on the completion of the CDA Credential portfolio requirements and preparing for the CDA Credential exam.
    • Intended for professionals who completed the necessary requirements for a CDA Credential.
    • Explores the current theory, research, and best practices related to early childhood.

CDA Credential Renewal Program

    • Offers support to professionals who are interested in renewing their CDA Credentials.
    • Reviews current literature, strategies, materials, technology skills, and health and safety standards that are relevant to the early childhood field.



An Interview with Our CDA Instructors

To get a better understanding of Trying Together’s CDA programs, we conducted an interview with the former Director of Learning and Development Rachelle Duffy, in addition to Workforce Development Strategist Theresa Hetler and former Innovative Learning Strategist Mimi Loughead.

CDA Preparation Program Questions

How is the program structured?

At first, the program consisted of monthly face-to-face meetings. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we moved to a virtual format where professionals meet twice per month on Zoom to discuss face-to-face and complete online coursework through Schoology. All of our content is pulled directly from what the CDA Council suggests for the test.

How many hours are included?

While the CDA Council only requires 120 hours, we recognize that some professionals may experience barriers such as working full-time or care responsibilities that may impact their ability to attend class. Our program offers 135 hours, creating a buffer of 15 hours, to ensure professionals stay on track and meet their hour requirements.

Another reason we offer 135 hours is that it actually breaks down into the possibility of matriculating credit into higher education really well. You need to have 45 hours of training for one three-credit course in higher education. Participants can actually transfer the hours they complete in our program to complete three courses at higher education institutions like Carlow University.

What is the typical timeline?

About six to nine months.

What will participants learn?

Trying Together’s program covers a large range of topics including, but not limited to:

    • health and safety in the classroom;
    • observations and assessments;
    • cognitive, physical, language, and literacy development;
    • program and classroom management;
    • the process to become a program director or owner;
    • creating positive relationships with families; and
    • professionalism.

Participants learn how to manage a classroom, build a lesson plan, engage with young children, support every child’s learning, and new ideas they can implement into their program.

What makes the program different or special?

Our instructors get to know each participant individually and build the program around each person’s needs. We recognize that each professional has barriers in their life, whether that is working several jobs, care responsibilities, or other life circumstances. We build our program around what each person needs to succeed.

Our instructors review every participant’s prior coursework, transcripts, experience, and training to make sure they receive hours for things they already completed rather than repeating those courses. This helps professionals meet that 135-hour requirement. We also offer support through the entire process from day one to completing their portfolio, scheduling observations, and taking their test. Not all programs do that.

We also have connections with many organizations in the early childhood field. Through our programs, professionals can access opportunities such as the Early Childhood Education Advocacy Fellowship, UnConferences, community events, and more.

What is provided?

    • Books and coursework from the CDA Council.
    • Information on upcoming professional development sessions and online materials.
    • Technical support and training on how to access and use the online tools and resources we provide.
    • We lend and technology out to participants who need it. If you are unable to purchase a CDA book, or if you do not have a computer at home, we can personally deliver these materials to you and provide a tutorial on how to use the computer if needed.
    • Helpful articles, videos, and other resources that can enhance your practice.
    • Discussion opportunities with other professionals in the field. Professionals can talk with each other about issues they are experiencing and brainstorm solutions.

General Questions

What are the benefits of having a CDA Credential?

    • Often recognized as the first step a professional can take to begin their journey on Pennsylvania’s formalized Career Lattice and is a great place to start in terms of personal growth and development.
    • If you are worried about higher education being overwhelming, this is a great opportunity to ease into it and get acquainted with the education process, while still receiving a credential.

What do the programs do?

Our programs support early learning professionals in building their knowledge/skillsets, gaining confidence in the classroom, and advancing their careers in the field. We want to ensure that every professional feels confident and comfortable in seeking out and applying for education opportunities, including those offered at higher education institutions, after the program as well.

What inspired the creation of these programs?

Trying Together wanted to have community-based CDA programs that meet the needs of individuals and professionals of all ages who may or may not have experience in higher education. This credential is often thought of as the first stepping stone into either high-paying jobs and/or a credentialing system that involves a degree, and we wanted to make that accessible.

What has the community response been? Are a lot of people participating?

We received a rapid increase in community response, so much to the point where we are receiving applicants from individuals inside and outside of Pennsylvania. To account for this, we had to split up our applicants into several cohorts throughout the year to make sure every eligible professional receives the support and guidance they need to succeed.

Our average cohort size is about 25 to 30 students. Even while a cohort is actively running, we have had Directors reach out to us to ask if additional staff members can join.

What is the Professional Development Organization?

The Professional Development Organization (PDO) is a grant-funded education collaboration among four universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and numerous partner universities, colleges, and community programs across the state to advance career pathways of the early childhood workforce.

    • The PDO covers tuition, expenses, and other supports to help eligible early childhood educators earn credit-bearing Child Development Associate (CDA) Credentials, Associate’s Degrees, and Bachelor’s Degrees.



More Information

For more information, visit our CDA Credential page. To ask a question about our programs, contact Theresa Hetler at or Lindsey Vicoria at For eligibility questions, contact Judy Graca at

Image: Young children play together at a table at an early learning program in Pittsburgh.