The observation that college students look younger every year rings true at Ivy Tech Community College this fall. In one classroom, the students haven't yet mastered shoelace-tying, but they are key players in preparing tomorrow's teachers.
Ivy Tech's Early Childhood Learning Center brings the little ones to campus so older students can observe and practice the best teaching techniques. The preschool class itself is sorely needed as sequestration and tougher standards reduce the number of spaces for children in high-quality early-learning programs.
Ivy Tech-Northeast has partnered with other area preschool providers in programs on its campus in past years, but the new lab school is the first operated entirely by the college, with instructors from its own early childhood program. As the children learn, Ivy Tech students are learning alongside them.
Lois Kaufmann-Hunsberger, an assistant professor of early childhood education, oversees the new program. Her hands-on work with the 3- to 5-year-olds is as important to the adult students as to the children, she said.
"It's modeling what teachers can do in the classroom, modeling what they should do," she said, suddenly calling the children's attention to a noisy truck in a parking lot near the fenced playground.
"I'm going to see the dump truck. Hear the noise it makes?" she asks as youngsters run to join her at the fence.
Brandee Sterling, one of three Ivy Tech students working alongside Kaufmann-Hunsberger, said the on-campus program is a great addition to the early childhood program. An earlier practicum Sterling completed was off campus and didn't offer the opportunity to interact with faculty as the new center does. It was also a more structured program than the child-centered approach Ivy Tech uses.
"The professor is right here, so we can talk about a situation right after it happens," said Sterling, who will complete her associate's degree in early childhood education in December. She plans to transfer to IPFW and pursue a bachelor's degree in education.
For Sarah Bullock, the new center offers a different type of convenience. Her 4-year-old, Taygan, is enrolled in preschool as she attends nursing classes at Ivy Tech.
Bullock said she's grateful for the program and the school readiness skills it will provide for her daughter. Three of her four older children attended preschool.
When she enrolled the fourth in kindergarten, the teacher noted that he hadn't yet learned to read.
"I didn't realize how important preschool is," she said. "He knew his shapes and colors and lots of words, but that wasn't enough. I decided then I had to find a preschool program for Taygan."
Ivy Tech students, faculty and staff are given priority for enrollment in the program, which is offered two or four days each week from 9 to 11:30 a.m., with before- and after-care hours available 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The cost averages just $4.38 per hour.
Certified programs are becoming more difficult to find, according to Rebecca Carothers, Ivy Tech's early childhood education program chairman. The state's tougher child-care standards have reduced the number of licensed providers.
The Ivy Tech program will eventually ease the shortage, helping to train certified teachers. In the meantime, it's serving parents and children as a high-quality preschool program. In a state with too few options for early learning, it's a welcome addition.