A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Chuck Muller
Breaking stigmas can sometimes prove to be difficult. That, however, is what educators and students alike are achieving in the Early Childhood Development Program at Hillsborough Community College.
The program’s child development lab schools, located at the school’s Ybor and Dale Mabry campuses, aim to be seen as more than a daycare for those attending the college. The early childhood educational program creates structured learning environments from the highest educational standards and practices.
This provides real world experience to undergraduate students coming through the program looking to make a career of what they learn while taking part in the school’s practical classroom environments.
“Everything in each one of these classrooms is intentional,” says Eunice Lopez, director of the program’s lab school at HCC’s Ybor City campus.
“There is a purpose for everything. Everything that’s on the wall, and everything that’s on the shelves. It’s for that particular age group, and there’s a reason for it.”
The program includes everything from the initial development of writing skills through scribbling for the youngest children, all the way to the older children learning how to spell their name as they begin to understand the basic concepts of spelling and linguistics.
Children in the program are split up into four separate classrooms, depending on the child’s age. Ages range from ages one to four, with children of the same age sharing a classroom just like in any other classroom setting.
Teachers then have an opportunity to work with children on an individual basis, or during group learning activities. Activities can range from reading a book collectively in a circle inside at story time, to growing green beans along the fence in the school’s outdoor grotto.
The reasoning, and all of the program’s standards and curriculum, stem from a stout list of educational accreditations.
Endorsements from the National Accreditation Commission (NAC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), two of the leaders in high-quality early learning for children from birth to age eight, have put their seal of approval on the program.
Accreditation with these programs, namely the NAEYC, takes place every five years. The program is evaluated on several key factors, from how much time each educator spends in contact with children, to the level of technology in the classroom.
The program’s Ybor campus is currently in the window for reaccreditation, according to Lopez.
Along with professional educators on staff with either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, are HCC undergraduates looking to finish the program and log real world experience before entering the field on their own.
Students that are in the last year of the early childhood education program at HCC can enroll in practicum courses located at the lab school only after completing 63 credit hours in the field.
“We hold ourselves to a high standard,” says Vanessa Muehl, a teacher at the center with 13 years of experience in early education before coming to HCC in 2013.
“We are a teaching lab school, we have practicum students that come through that we mentor and train. We are not only teaching children, but teaching the student body here at HCC.”
Having taught at other schools under different accreditations, Muehl praises the work done by her team at HCC, and its ability to maintain a program with such high expectations, despite common misconceptions of their craft.
“It’s a lot of work. Unfortunately, the stigma that we have in this field is that we are just babysitters, just here to watch the kids. But, we take what we do very seriously.
We are early childhood educators. We are teachers responsible for molding these children. Having the NAEYC accreditation is a huge feather in our cap, and holds us to a high standard.”
Currently, there are about 55 children enrolled under the care of the HCC Early Child Development Program.
Parents, if they are either students, faculty, or staff of the college, can register their children for the program on a semester-by-semester basis. The college’s student government also gives students the option to enroll their children for half off of what they would normally pay in tuition.
Unlike many early childhood centers, the program does not rely on tuition from parents to fund the program.
Instead, the program is financed fully by Hillsborough Community College.
This backing eases the stress on teachers and parents alike from the unenviable task of coming up with money throughout the semester as learning opportunities for their children arise. Everything from smart tables and new technology in the classrooms to new playground equipment is readily available to the children of the school because of the emphasis the college puts on the program.
Although the Ybor campus is considered their flagship location, the program does have a smaller lab school located at HCC’s main campus on Dale Mabry Highway.
The wish of Lopez and her staff is to one day have a lab school on all of HCC’s six campuses, in hopes that the program can affect and grow even more children in an already flourishing program.