Solid first steps

State’s Early Childhood Education Center offers quality care for Wabash Valley youngsters — and valuable classroom experience for future teachers.

Marking 45 years of excellence, Indiana State University’s Early Childhood Education Center has once again earned accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

What’s even more impressive is just nine percent of centers nationally earn this prestigious accreditation.

“The process is rigorous and requires documentation of staff members’ qualifications, administration, health, safety, curriculum,” said Gail Gottschling, who has been the center’s director since 1983. “All those things are documented and observed by the NAEYC national board before we are certified.”

Indiana State’s center submits an annual report to NAEYC, and every five years Gottschling and her team reapply for accreditation.

Outside of this distinction, center employees say no detail is too small for the families they serve. For example, the infant room is painted in natural colors so it’s not too stimulating for the babies. “We try to create an environment that’s homelike,” she said.

The center offers hands-on learning experiences for Sycamores, opportunities for faculty to conduct research and most importantly, a service to local families.

The center is part of the Bayh College of Education’s department of teaching and learning. It started with two classrooms; now, they operate seven full-time classrooms, she said.

Gottschling, who began working at the center as a teacher in 1978 and plans to retire in June, is proud of the strides the center has made in many areas — particularly in offering hands-on learning experiences for Sycamores, opportunities for faculty to conduct research and most importantly, a service to local families.

“As for field experiences, the students have coursework that is affiliated with practical experience,” Gottschling said. “So they’ll come to experience and observe the children and teacher interactions. It’s the practical experience that goes along with the coursework.”

Kristine Bullock, an elementary education major from Brownsburg, Ind., is one of those students.

“I get to see how the kids interact in the classroom, and then I get to work with them one-on-one,”said Bullock on a day she was helping a 5-year-old with reading skills.

“Every kid is different, so it’s great to work with a lot of different kids,” she added. “And it’s great to see how they learn and to apply different learning techniques.”

Kaileigh Nelson of New Lenox, Ill., an elementary education major with a minor in reading, also spends time at the center.

“One, we’re understanding how to apply what we’re learning to the real world while we’re learning it,” she said. “That opens up my eyes a lot, because it’s not just you’re learning and not using it. You get that firsthand experience right off the bat.

“It’s helped me to write my lesson plans, because I know what kids enjoy, what they can sit through and what they can’t sit through. Indiana State is really great at placing us in different grade levels, versus just one grade, like we’ll probably have when we start teaching.”

The ECEC was the first accredited center in Terre Haute and has provided mentorship for other programs interested in accreditation. Indiana State’s center, located in the Maehling Terrace University Apartments on Farrington Street, is open to children ages 6 weeks to 5 years.

Children play at Early Childhood Education Center.

Its mission states, in part, that the center “demonstrates quality childhood education programs for young people and their parents with a commitment to cultural diversity.”

“We do serve a very diverse population, probably even more so in our program because we serve the ISU population and reflect their diversity,” Gottschling said. “And we serve a population that’s diverse in many ways: income, race, national origin, family makeup.”

Families not associated with Indiana State should check often on potential openings, she said. The number of children in each classroom is limited.

“Our families are ISU faculty, staff and students, and when we have openings, we offer spots to the public, but we also serve ISU families first,” she said.

Gottschling said many parents want an inclusive environment for their children. “We have children who are English-language learners. Our teachers make sure the diversity is represented in the classroom through the children. It’s interwoven in the curriculum.”

For the youngsters, she said, it becomes part of their everyday experience. “They are always interacting with children of other cultures.”

The center’s diversity and inclusion values are a natural extension of the university’s. Sycamores are encouraged by faculty and staff to study abroad or to participate in other service-oriented projects around the country.

“There are many different ways to live in this world, and without international travel, you don’t get that experience,” Gottschling said. “All of our children are experiencing that every day. It might not be apparent to them, but they grow up with diversity all around them. And, hopefully, this will enable them to grow up without bias and prejudices.”

Parents are also invited to participate in the classroom experience. Ana Vaz has two children — a 5-year-old and a 6-month-old — who go to the center. “We are completely satisfied,” Vaz said.

Vaz works as an oceanographer. Her company’s headquarters is in Miami, but she works online from their home in the Wabash Valley. The center has invited her to talk to the children about her career.

“When parents have time, we look forward to their participation,” Gottschling said.

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