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State lawmakers visit UAH to celebrate expansion of Pre-K

Alabama lawmakers visited UAH's Early Learning Center to learn about a program dedicated to preparing Early Childhood Education teachers.

This morning, North Alabama state lawmakers Rep. Phil Williams (HD-06) and Rep. Terri Collins (HD-08) visited the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Early Learning Center to observe one of the state’s newest high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K classrooms. The lawmakers came to UAH to learn about new efforts led by the UAH College of Education to insure the state’s pre-k workforce is keeping up with the pace of expansion.

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 pre-service 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.

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. 

“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.