UAH recognized as emerging leader in preparing pre-k teachers

December 13, 2017

Huntsville, Ala. – North Alabama state lawmakers Representative Phil Williams (HD-06) and Representative Terri Collins (HD-08) observed one of the state’s newest high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K classrooms, at UAH’s Early Learning Center, to learn details about new efforts led by the UAH College of Education to ensure the state’s pre-k workforce is keeping up with the pace of expansion.

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is managed by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. For 11-years in a row, it has been ranked the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research. One of the benchmarks NIEER uses to measure a program’s quality is through the level of training and education teachers receive prior to working in a classroom. To work in an Alabama First Class Pre-K classroom, lead teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree specializing in early childhood education. Assistant teachers must have a Child Development Associate credential.

To help the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education meet the growing demand for more First Class Pre-K teachers, the UAH College of Education recently began offering students a dual certification in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education. Students enrolled in the program also work at the UAH Early Learning Center.

"The UAH College of Education is pleased to offer a B.S. in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education,” said Dr. Beth N. Quick, Dean of the UAH College of Education. “The Early Learning Center classrooms provide an invaluable experience for our preservice teachers to learn from teams of effective and certified early educators in a developmentally appropriate inclusive setting. Not only are they able to observe, plan and implement learning opportunities, they have wonderful experiences interacting with a variety of support staff, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, music therapists, and parents. The ELC also provides a rich environment for faculty and graduate students to conduct observations and research relevant to their interests and fields of study.”

In addition to being a University lab school for new teachers, UAH’s Early Learning Center also specializes in helping children with special needs prepare for a traditional kindergarten. In May, the Early Learning Center received a grant from the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to add a second First Class Pre-K classroom at the center, support lead and assistant teacher salaries, and purchase developmentally appropriate materials. The new classroom was made possible by the $13 million expansion of the state’s First Class Pre-K program approved by the state legislature earlier this year, combined with funding from year three of Alabama's four-year federal Preschool Development Grant.

“Educational achievement remains the greatest challenge in our state,” said Alabama State Representative Phil Williams (HD-06). “I am happy to support efforts targeted toward our youngest citizens and hope they have every opportunity for success in their lives.”

The new classroom at the UAH Early Learning Center is one of ten new Alabama First Class Pre-K classrooms added across Madison County this school year. In total, there are 74 Alabama First Class Pre-K classrooms across Madison County. Approximately 31.2 percent of all Madison County four-year-olds are participating in the program this school year.

Across the state, there are 938 Alabama First Class Pre-K classrooms located in various public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, and other community-based preschool settings. However, that is only enough classrooms to enroll approximately 28 percent of four-year-olds across the state.

The tour was organized by advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

In 2012, the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force launched a ten-year campaign to advocate for incremental increases in First Class Pre-K until the program is fully funded. ASRA has estimated that the state would need to appropriate a total level of funding of $144 million to give every Alabama family the opportunity to voluntarily enroll their four-year-old in a First Class Pre-K program. Current state funding for the program is $77.5 million.

“Students who participate in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program outperform their peers in reading and math in every grade,” said Allison Muhlendorf, the executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “Unfortunately, due to limited state funding, there are only enough classrooms across Madison County to enroll 31.2 percent of the area’s four-year-olds. State lawmakers have made it clear that giving more families an opportunity to participate in the Alabama First Class Pre-K program is a priority. It is crucial that leaders continue to increase First Class Pre-K investments until every family in the state has access to this proven program.”

Click here for photos from the UAH event.