Kids on Campus: From Preschool to Pre-Professional

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Author Robert Fulghum told us that everything we needed to know about life we learned in kindergarten. Turns out, that might be too late.

"We know that a large portion of brain development occurs in the first three years of life," explains Rebecca Olson, director, D. Scott Hudgens, Jr. Early Education Center. "That development forms a foundation for future learning."

That principal lives in practice daily at the Hudgens Early Education Center on the campus of Gwinnett Technical College, where students in the same class might be 18 months or 18 years old. The Hudgens Center is an innovative childcare center and preschool that also serves as the live learning lab for Gwinnett Tech”s Early Childhood Care and Education program.

Now approaching its second anniversary, the Hudgens Center is a 26,000-square-foot, two-story facility nestled on the back border of the Gwinnett Tech campus with space for just over 200 children. Open to the community, the center serves children ages six weeks to eight years, offering fulltime infant and toddler care, preschool, Montessori, Georgia Pre-K classes, summer camp and before- and after-school care.

Modeling Best Practices
Cliché but true – most of the Hudgens Center”s physical features are state-of-the art. The center has the latest in security features including swipe-card access, in-class cameras and observation rooms with full audio capabilities. Olson and other administrators have the ability to monitor classroom activity via a desktop monitor and a wall-mounted, flat-screen serves communication needs in the spacious lobby. Outside, three playground areas are the type children dream of and clamor for – and each is designed for a specific age group.

What makes the Hudgens Center distinct in the area is its status as a laboratory school – a term reserved for childcare and preschool centers affiliated with college-level early education programs. In the world of academia, lab schools are the top of the mark in early childhood education.

"As a lab school for Gwinnett Tech, our sole purpose is to model the best practices in early childhood care and education," says Olson, who was director of UGA”s prestigious McPhaul Child and Family Development Center prior to joining GTC to open and develop the Hudgens Center. "To provide the best site for future teachers, we have to emulate quality in everything we do."

To reach that mark, the center follows the accreditation standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which sets quality measurements that parents can count on – literally.

"High quality care for young children is highly dependent on teacher ratios," Olson says. "Group size is also a big factor."

The Hudgens Center follows teacher-child ratios set by NAEYC which are significantly lower than the teacher-child ratios set by the state of Georgia.

A Matter of Degrees
The education level of teachers is a primary indicator of high quality care – and a high priority for Olson. "As a training site, our goal is for all of our lead teachers to have a four-year degree. Right now, most of our teachers have a two-year degree."

Georgia”s licensing requirements state that early childhood teachers and caregivers must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED.

"The learning of the child is directly tied to the education level of the teacher," agrees Dr. Priscilla Smith, program director for Gwinnett Tech”s Early Childhood Care and Education program