Home Carrollton The littlest Wolves: UWG’s Early Learning Center ranks Top 15 in nation

The littlest Wolves: UWG’s Early Learning Center ranks Top 15 in nation

Recently ranked No. 13 in the United States for accessibility and affordability, the University of West Georgia’s Early Learning Center is known for its commitment to the university, the community and the future of early childhood education.

What makes the University of West Georgia’s Early Learning Center one of the Top 15 university-affiliated centers of its kind in the nation? Let’s count the ways.

In celebration of the Week of the Young Child, observed April 6-12, we sat down with the center’s director, Melanie Brooks, to discover why the program is a model for the nation when it comes to pre-K initiatives.

One, two, learn something new 

Recently ranked No. 13 in the United States for accessibility and affordability, UWG’s ELC is known for its commitment to the university, the community and the future of early childhood education. 

“It is well-established that the first three to five years of a child’s life are critically important to brain development and relationship skills,” explained Dr. Laura Smith, associate dean of UWG’s College of Education (COE), where the program is housed. “In West Georgia, only about 50% of children are accessing formal early childhood programs. Young children must be provided with opportunities to engage appropriately in classroom learning tasks in order to enter the kindergarten classroom ‘ready to learn,’ and they must be provided with access to high-quality, early learning opportunities.”

Dr. Mike Dishman, COE dean, said the ranking is a well-deserved accomplishment. 

“We are pleased and honored that the UWG College of Education Early Learning Center has achieved this much-merited recognition, which is a result of an innovative quest to develop a state-of-the-art early childhood research and demonstration facility,” Dishman added. “Melanie Brooks and the ELC staff are truly outstanding, and Ms. Brooks’ leadership skills in programming and community partnerships helped secure this outstanding ranking.”

Three, four, go explore

The ELC “littles,” as Brooks affectionately calls them, have a playground of nearly 650 acres. Field trips are taken to the next level as the children visit places like the Waring Lab to conduct archaeological digs, the UWG Observatory to glimpse the universe, the biology program’s greenhouse to learn about bees and pollinators, and even University Stadium on gameday to run with the Wolves.

“Our littles benefit from all the different activities that are on this campus, which they can easily access because they’re right here in our backyard,” Brooks explained. “Everyone has been so gracious to welcome us and teach the students about their areas of expertise. We learn about people and how they contribute to the community. This positions our children to think they have access to a plethora of career fields when they grow up.”

Five, six, generations mix

The ELC is a cutting-edge facility that provides a 21st-century learning environment for all learners, from the youngest pre-K beginners to undergraduate students and graduate scholars. The older students – even ones from high school and in other UWG programs – have the opportunity to visit the on-site research lab and observe where growth and development begin and where kids’ first learning experiences take place. Select graduate students are able to get more involved.

“We have a unique setup in which my teachers are graduates of the university and they’re with me doing their first years of teaching while obtaining their master’s degrees,” Brooks said. “It’s an eye-opening experience for them to see how children learn so much at an early age and help lay that educational foundation. The benefit is the children have two certified teachers with them everyday. It’s an excellent co-teaching setup that maximizes the children’s learning experience.”

Seven, eight, let’s create 

Home to a state-of-the-art makerspace, this hands-on learning environment focuses on inclusivity and accessibility. Brooks spoke of one example where the kids were assigned the role of the three little pigs to construct a house the wolf couldn’t blow down, which prompted them to proceed through the whole design process – from planning to building to testing their creations with blow dryers to see if the house would remain standing in the wind. Another example was with the Billy Goats Gruff where the children were asked to build a bridge for the goats to cross that a troll could also hide underneath.

“These activities enable them to build critical thinking and collaboration skills,” Brooks shared. “Sometimes it’s just giving them random materials and letting them independently create, and boy, do they have great ideas. They know when they enter the makerspace that they’re going to have a fun experience and create something great.”

Nine, ten, tell a friend 

It’s one thing for Dishman, Smith and Brooks to sing ELC’s praises. It takes on a whole different meaning to hear the accolades from the families and children themselves. Word is spreading throughout the community so much that UWG is hoping to apply for an additional classroom through the Georgia Department of Education.

“So many people want their children to attend UWG’s ELC, and I think that’s the truest testament,” Brooks concluded. “When you work there, you can talk all you want about the good things in the program, but that doesn’t hold nearly as much weight as what a parent is hearing from their child then telling their friends and colleagues about what their child is experiencing. That is more valuable than anything I could say.”