(Posted August 12, 2002)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Almost anyone familiar with the Juniata College campus knows that the beehive of student activity centers around Ellis College Center, but one of the lesser-known hangouts for youngsters is just across the street from Ellis, where the "students" range in age from 18 months old to age 5.

The younger students are part of Juniata's Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) a state-licensed and accredited preschool in the first floor of Lesher Hall on the Juniata campus.

"One of our strengths is providing is a safe and nurturing environment for the children, where they feel safe and are able to learn," says Christine Breene, co-director of the center.

The center offers a program for toddlers (18 months to 35 months) Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. for $243 per semester. The preschool program (ages 3-5) offers four different programs: Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 9-11:30 a.m. ($447 per semester); Tuesday, Thursday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. ($267 per semester); Monday, Wednesday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. ($267 per semester); and Monday through Thursday from 1 to 3:30 p.m. ($459 per semester).

The center serves as both a learning center and preschool for 65 to 70 children each semester. It also offers Juniata College students, almost all of them education majors, experience in teaching and interacting with young children.

"We are a blended program, which means that we accept children with special needs," says Sylvia McDowell, co-director of the center. "This approach allows us to better serve the community and offer Juniata students a variety of teaching experiences."

The center is open to the entire Huntingdon community and enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis. "Classes are filling up quickly, so it's best to call now to get in or get on the waiting list," McDowell says. For information on any ECEC program, call (814) 641-3401.

There are two full-time co-directors on staff, as well as a full-time teacher and educational aides from Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11. In addition, there are several Juniata College work-study students and students from the college's education department working at the center during the academic year. Vision, speech and physical therapy services also are provided by members of the center's support team.

The curriculum is based on the interests of the children as well as the teaching staff. "Let's say that several children are fascinated by trucks," Breene explains. "We would incorporate that into lessons. For example, we might cut out paper into truck shapes, and then write about trucks or look at books about trucks."

McDowell says the staff tries to mix aspects of math, science and language skills into childhood developmental areas such as social skills, emotional development, cognitive skills, physical and adaptive development and language and communication skills.

"Just by playing with blocks, children can learn about shapes, balance, construction, social skills, language and even conflict resolution," Breene says.

The center also uses the resources of Juniata College to make its pupils' learning more varied. In a typical year, the children might visit the Juniata College Museum of Art, walk over to the Brumbaugh Science Center to see geologic samples or visit the wetland located behind the baseball field. They also take field trips off campus to local farms and other attractions.

The center also is used as a student teaching opportunity for Juniata students.
Students from the college are required to spend two hours a week -- called a "practicum" in educational lingo -- gaining experience and applying the principles learned in each class.

Students from the Childhood Development course usually help with lessons or activities. The Curriculum course students teach under supervision and write lesson plans, which are critiqued by either McDowell or Breene. Students from the Families and Teachers course will select a child and write a case study of the child's development, including a home visit with parents.

The center is a nonprofit agency operated by Juniata College and supervised by the college's education department. Juniata College also offers a partial tuition waiver for families who can show that they are unable to meet the costs of the program. For more information on tuition programs, call Breene or McDowell at (814) 641-3401.

"The students learn to collaborate with professionals as well as families," Breene says. "They also get to work in a preschool with kids of all skill levels as well as children with special needs. Not all preschools have that."

"Every day is really a learning experience for everybody involved here, including the full-time staff," McDowell says.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.