Early childhood education has been a female-dominated profession for generations.

According to 2011-12 National Education Association statistics, just 16.2 percent of elementary school teachers in the U.S. are men; in Wisconsin it’s 21.5 percent.

In light of these facts, Jill Klefstad, associate professor and program director of the early childhood education program at University of Wisconsin-Stout, has organized a support group for male childhood education teachers.

“I see the need of organizing and supporting the ECE men,” she said.

A group of 15 men, which included seven students and six alumni, met for the first time recently at UW-Stout to discuss their career choice and any issues they may be experiencing. Some of the men work in the Menomonie area, and six are former students of Klefstad.

At this point, the group doesn’t really have a name. “To begin with we called it the ECE Male Support Group,” Klefstad said.

But they do have a purpose. “The goal of the gathering is to reinforce and support these young men for choosing a career path in childhood education and to help them grasp the importance of their chosen field of study,” Klefstad said.

Klefstad hopes that in the future, with the assistance of Sapna Thapna, her colleague in early childhood education, the group will focus on advocating in some way for young children.

The men attending included Joe Lawrence, owner of Little Sprouts Academy, in Menomonie; alumnus Josh Bowe 2002, owner of Monkey Business Early Educational Community, in Menomonie; alumnus Wesley Nehring ’09, Stout Child and Family Study Center; Joe Zawacki, Augusta Elementary School; alumnus Eric Knutson ’04, Augusta Elementary School; alumnus Steve Petznick ’91, Augusta Elementary School; alumnus Todd Hayden ’97, Downsville Elementary School; and alumnus Scott Moore ’04, Amery Elementary School.

The students were Patrick Belmonte, of Tomah; Jacob Luff, of Alma; Matthew Marusak, of Boyceville; Jacob Pollock, of Dassel, Minn.; Logan McLaughlin, of Madison; Christopher Parker, of Whitehall; and Tyler Schumacher, of Medford.

Dang Yang, multicultural recruitment coordinator in the School of Education, UW-Stout, also attended.

At the meeting, the men were able share stories and tips in an informal setting.