One brisk morning, two children held their parent’s hand on their way to the Early Learning Community, ELC, located in the basement of Berglund Hall at Pacific University. A college student passed the family as the youngest child waved hello. The two students exchanged smiles.
Although there’s a large age difference between the ELC and college students, the campus brings the two ages together by having both preschool and kindergarten students in the ELC.
The ELC, also considered a lab school, allows Pacific students who are enrolled in specific classes to be involved with the children as part of their academic practicum.
“The ELC right now has over 3,000 hours of practicum visits that students do a year,” Director of the Child Learning and Development Center Mark Bailey said. “The idea is theory to practice. It’s one thing to talk about the theory [in class] and another to see what it really looks like [in the ELC].”
Now open for it’s seventh year, Bailey remembers the ELC as just a mere idea in his imagination. Starting it from the ground up, Bailey was hired 20 years ago with prior knowledge of working in a model school, sometimes referred to as a lab school. He wanted to bring this environment of younger children to Pacific. Once he was able to do so, he worked for 10 years writing many grants until he finally received a grant for $1 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
“From the beginning, it’s been my vision to bring this facility to Pacific and then receiving the funds to do so I am now the director, and serve as the pedagogical coordinator of the facility,” Bailey said. “The key thing is that it was funded on the premise that it was reflective of and supportive of the entire community in the area.”
Lead teacher and Pacific alumna Rachelle Mejia has been at the ELC since it opened. She often interacts with Pacific students who are observing, collecting data and helping out the staff, while ensuring the highest quality of education for the children.
“It’s been amazing because [the ELC] has changed so much,” Mejia said. “It’s so rich for our students and then for the college students there is nothing like actually working with a young child to help you see what it’s like.”
Currently, many departments are involved with the ELC. The College of Optometry performs free eye screenings for students, the Speech-Language Pathology program in the College of Education comes down and does speech and hearing screenings, pre-service teachers in the College of Education serve as assistant teachers and other classes observe and complete course related practicum.
Junior JT Francies is part of the psychology class in child development and spends a good amount of time in the ELC.
“I gain experience and I can observe concepts from class happening right in front of me,” Francies said. “It will benefit me in the future as an education major because I will graduate with experience, but also when I become a parent I will know what to expect from my kids and how to react.”
Aside from the ELC’s relation to Pacific students, the community relationship is urged to grow as well. Although they haven’t had a lot of outside volunteers, students from the nearby high school are welcome to come and express interest if it pertains to their academic coursework. Parents are also encouraged to help out occasionally.
Parent involvement is one thing Mejia wants to see more. She has become very passionate about parental education and hopes to provide more of this resource for parents both of the students and children in the community.
“I would like to be a voice out there,” Mejia said. “I also hope we continue to build relationships with other departments.”
Bailey agrees and also looks forward to the addition of grade levels in hopes to have a wider developmental range of children on campus. They will begin by adding a first grade and kindergarten blend next year, and will be able to move up to a first and second grade blend the following year.