A national report on pre-K education declares West Virginia a leader in early childhood education.
The National Institute for Early Education’s annual State of Preschool Report showed the state ranks fifth in access to early childhood education, with 58 percent of West Virginia’s four-year-olds enrolled in preschool.
The West Virginia University College of Human Resources and Education is doing its part to continue this trend through the West Virginia Reggio Emilia Teachers’ Network. The Network connects faculty, university students, public school teachers, and the State Department of Education as collaborators on a mission designed to enhance early learning in the state while developing the education and preparation of future pre-K teachers.
“We are engaging participants by working together for the same goal—establishing early learning possibilities for all West Virginia citizens,” said Dr. Joy Faini Saab, chair of the departments of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies, Social and Cultural Foundations, and Educational Leadership Studies. “There is power in early learning. Children’s minds are very receptive to new information gathered from meaningful experiences; they are flexible and always engaged with their world.”
The College achieves this collaboration by hosting an annual international education study abroad program in Italy called the Reggio Emilia Approach. Through annual visits, the state has become a hub of early childhood education advocates who share best practices with colleagues across the state and beyond. The last visit was in April and included students and faculty from WVU, Davis and Elkins College, Marshall University, the Marshall University Early Education STEM Center, Hildebrandt Learning Centers, Alderson Broaddus College and preschool teachers from Cabell County, with support from the West Virginia State Department of Education.
“Joining the Reggio Emilia international study abroad program is a life-changing experience. Educators who engage in this international experience witness a different culture of childhood,” Saab said. “It changes our way of looking at the child as a capable and responsible learner within the culture. It’s a transforming experience.”
The program’s influence, Saab said, is demonstrated in the NIEE’s report, which shows a 34 percent increase in pre-K enrollment over the last 10 years. In addition, West Virginia ranks eighth nationally in early education spending, totaling $5,605 per child enrolled, according to the report.
“Collaboration has been the hallmark of the West Virginia Universal Pre-K System, both in terms of state efforts and local implementation,” said Clayton Burch, assistant director for the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Readiness. “This model of collaboration can also be seen in the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Readiness and the WVU College of Human Resources and Education.”
Said Saab, “This program is changing West Virginia early education because it brings together a professional collaboration of teachers from the public schools, State Department of Education representatives and higher education faculty to work together for the common goal of enhancing early childhood education.”
“West Virginia is emerging as a national leader in pre-K and elementary education because of this important work. What West Virginia knew all along is finally acknowledged on a national basis.”
The Reggio Emilia Approach is grounded in a philosophy that integrates multidimensional learning around teamwork, creative and critical thinking, problem solving, experiential learning and artistic expression for preschool classrooms.
“The overall goal is to have preschool students entering school systems that are focused on the potential of every child,” Burch said. “Every child should have an early childhood experience that is embedded in the arts, a learning experience that emphasizes self-confidence, initiative, and representation and opportunities that promote an overall sense of self.”
CONTACT: Christie Zachary, Human Resources and Education