YBOR CITY — The child care offered by Hillsborough Community College's Early Childhood Development Program at Hills-borough Community College represents so much more than a place the college's students can find someone to watch their kids during the day.
The program's child development lab schools, located on the Ybor City and Dale Mabry campuses, serve as an early childhood educational program that creates structured learning environments and meets the highest educational standards and practices.
Undergraduate students coming through the program can strive for a career while taking part in the school's practical classroom environments.
"Everything in each one of these classrooms is intentional," says Eunice Lopez, director of the program's lab school at HCC's Ybor City campus.
"There is a purpose for everything. Everything that's on the wall, and everything that's on the shelves. It's for that particular age group, and there's a reason for it."
From scribbling for the youngest children to the initial development of writing skills to the older children learning how to spell their name, the lab makes sure to do a thorough job teaching the basic concepts of spelling and linguistics.
Children ages 1 to 4 are split up into four separate groups based on age and they sit in a classroom setting like older students. Teachers then have an opportunity to work with children on an individual basis, or during group learning activities. Activities can range from reading a book collectively in a circle inside at story time, to growing green beans along the fence in the school's outdoor grotto.
The reasoning, and all of the program's standards and curriculum, stem from a stout list of educational accreditations.
Endorsements from the National Accreditation Commission (NAC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), two of the leaders in high-quality early learning for children from birth to age 8, have put their seal of approval on the program.
HCC students that are in the last year of the early childhood education program at HCC can enroll in practicum courses at the lab school only after completing 63 credit hours in the field.
"We hold ourselves to a high standard," says Vanessa Muehl, a teacher at the center with 13 years of experience in early education before coming to HCC in 2013.
"We are a teaching lab school, we have practicum students that come through that we mentor and train. We are not only teaching children, but teaching the student body here at HCC."
Having taught at other schools under different accreditations, Muehl praises the work done by her team at HCC to maintain a program with such high standards despite common misconceptions of their craft.
"It's a lot of work," Muehl said. "Unfortunately, the stigma that we have in this field is that we are just babysitters, just here to watch the kids. But we take what we do very seriously. We are early childhood educators. We are teachers responsible for molding these children."
Currently, there are about 55 children enrolled under the care of the HCC Early Child Development Program. Parents, if they are students, faculty, or staff of the college, can register their children for the program on a semester-by-semester basis. The college's student government also gives students the option to enroll their children for half off of what they would normally pay for enrollment in the day care program.
Unlike many early childhood centers, the program does not rely on tuition from parents to fund the program. Instead, the program is financed by Hillsborough Community College.
Although the Ybor campus is considered the flagship location, the program does have a smaller lab school at HCC's main campus on Dale Mabry Highway.
The wish of Lopez and her staff is to one day have a lab school on all of HCC's six campuses, in hopes that the program can affect and grow even more children in an already flourishing program.
Contact Chuck Muller at [email protected]