UW’s early childhood education program dates to the 1970s, though it wasn’t housed under the same roof until 2005. How has the new building helped drive the center into the future?
When I came to UW in 1991, I continued the efforts of the directors before me to fi nd us a building where we could be together. It had long been identified as a critical piece of the center’s evolution, and I knew I needed to make it a top priority. When we ended up in a beautiful facility in 2005 that was built for us and our purposes, we finally had the ability to grow our philosophy as well as the space to do what we had wanted to do for years. Now we have rooms devoted to observation through a camera system, a nurse’s office and a meeting/work room for teachers to plan curriculum and mentor UW students. Our program has always been a learning lab, a place for college students to get hands-on experience with children, a place for faculty to do research. Th at will always be the primary mission.
Recently, UW led efforts to form a coalition with early childhood education programs at Wyoming’s community colleges. Why is that important?
We feel a great responsibility, as the only early childhood lab facility at the only four-year institution in the state, to best serve our children and our state. And we also want to prepare the UW students who either complete multiple practicums or work at the ECEC to go into the state and serve our children. Every program in the state is unique, but all of us are always seeking to improve best practices. What’s best for children? What’s best for the teachers? We are always looking to increase our outreach and provide training, consultation, and other resources for providers, professionals and students. Th ere are things that some of the community colleges have done that have helped us, and vice versa. When you get together as a group, there’s power in solidarity.
How does the work of Nikki Baldwin, the curriculum director, shape what happens at the UW Early Care and Education Center?
Nikki has brought so much definition to what we do every day. She draws upon her 12 years of experience in early childhood education, including nine years as a curriculum specialist, to challenge our teachers’ perceptions of how children learn and grow and to help them blossom into the role of a mentor for the college students at the center. She is always working to find ways to involve parents in their children’s classroom experience, too. We couldn’t do what we do without Nikki.
What are the center’s goals moving into the future, and what needs to happen for you to meet those goals?
We want to continue to lead statewide efforts to help build understanding about the importance of early childhood education and its impact on a child’s future. It is not simply about school readiness, but life readiness. We want to provide the early tools to help our children solve problems and learn to live a healthy social life and become an active member of a community. To succeed, I don’t think there’s any question that we need to recruit and retain the teachers who will maintain the high quality of our program and who will carry out our philosophy built around the concept that education is a partnership between the child, the family and the staff. Our teachers have a unique job in this state, and we need to be able to recognize them, financially and otherwise, for the responsibility they have in shaping the future of Wyoming.