A Focus on Children
UW’s Early Care and Education Center serves a dual mission, helping young children thrive and educating the next generation of teachers.
By Micaela Myers
Every year, the University of Wyoming Early Care and Education Center (ECEC) welcomes about 300 UW students to the center for observations, practicums and internships.
As child care centers throughout the nation gear up for the annual Week of the Young Child (April 6–12, 2014), two ECEC students and two teachers share how the center plays a multi-faceted role in education—helping young children thrive and teaching the next generation of educators.
The ECEC provides child care and preschool for children ages 3 months to 5 years, as well as an after-school program for children in kindergarten through sixth grade—serving 90 children in all.
“We have three different roles at the ECEC: a teacher, a mentor and an advocate for children,” says Michelle Kearns, lead teacher in the infant room and a nine-year veteran of the center. “Our program is unique in that we are a lab facility for the university. We have students from many different programs who come over to work with the teachers and students. Typically we see students from programs such as nursing, music, dance, nutrition, education, early childhood and art. The college students associated with the ECEC can have a huge impact on the children, the ECEC, early childhood education, their future classrooms and the state of Wyoming.”
“As I work teaching and growing alongside these young lives, I am not only impacting them—the college students, staff and observers in my room see how I interact with children,” says Stephanie Spear, a UW alumna and lead teacher in one of the preschool rooms. “Guiding these children as they find out new things regarding the world around them is so fulfilling. I think the realizations they have and thoughtful ideas remind me that we never stop learning.
“Mentoring co-workers, assistants and college students is another part of this job I truly enjoy,” she continues. “Starting as a student at the ECEC myself many years ago, I know the importance of a good mentor. When in the room interacting with children, I do my best to talk through what I am doing and the choices behind why. This verbal explanation, I believe, allows college students, co-workers and even assistants to learn from all daily experiences.”
“As a student, I have had the opportunity to observe and work with the children for a variety of classes,” says Katie Cameron of Colorado Springs, Colo. A senior majoring in human development and family sciences with a minor in early childhood education, she now works as an assistant teacher in the infant room. “It was such a unique experience to be able to take the knowledge I was learning in class and apply it firsthand in the classroom setting. I think that planning explorations and watching children engage with materials is something all early childhood students need to experience, not just read about. After graduation, I plan to pursue a career in early childhood education and to continue to work with young children.”
Alisa Kopsa, a junior elementary education major from Cheyenne, Wyo., is another UW student to benefit from hands-on experience at the ECEC. “I have always chosen to observe at the ECEC because their philosophy and practices are very similar to what I would like my classroom to look like in the future,” she says. “UW makes a point to give students hands-on teaching experiences before they go out to find jobs. The education staff is full of new and bright ideas for the future of education, and they share those ideas with all of their students. All of the teachers are enthusiastic and welcoming to the students who come into the center to observe. There is no better feeling than walking into a classroom and feeling like it is where you are meant to be.”
The annual Week of the Young Child is sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the UW’s ECEC is NAEYC accredited. The week draws attention to young children’s unique needs and celebrates quality education for young children. “Too often, I think the importance of early childhood programs and the curiosity of young children gets overlooked, but this week is all about bringing those things to the forefront,” Cameron says.
“Children are strong, intelligent, curious, adventurous, kind and leaders who deserve respect,” Kearns adds. “This week is a time when we all come together, both locally and nationally, to advocate for children who are unable to advocate for themselves.”