by Julie Lineback and Cassady Thompson

Multiple onsite learning facilities and study abroad opportunities. Classroom and field experiences in professional development schools. Two certification tracks. Experience with immersive classroom simulation. A dedicated science and math lab. A freshman experience course. More than 1,100 hours of clinical experience in classrooms.

Student teacher in front of a classroomHaving the opportunity to engage in a few of these experiences would be expected, but students in the University of West Georgia College of Education’s early childhood education (ECED) program have the opportunity to engage in all of them. It is this combination that gave the program the edge to receive the 2017-18 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award by the Georgia Association of Teacher Educators (GATE).

Dr. Jill Drake, chair and professor of COE’s Department of Early Childhood and Secondary Education, said it was an honor to be recognized by fellow teachers around the state of Georgia.

“We are continually seeking to make our program the best among the early childhood programs in the state by offering a well-designed, innovative program of study that provides unique and impactful learning experiences for our ECED majors,” she shared. “This recognition affirms to the ECED program faculty that our commitment to excellence in teaching, scholarship and service is worthwhile and is valued not only by our teacher candidates but also by our peers.”

Drake elaborated on how the quantity and quality of experiences offered to ECED bachelor’s, master’s and specialist students help the program stand out amongst other universities in the state.

COE’s program is prominent and flourishes in more ways than one. Most universities do not have an onsite pre-K, and Drake’s department provides students with learning experiences in a nationally accredited one. Along with pre-K, UWG is home to the Comprehensive Community Clinic, where the community is offered services in mathematics and literacy tutoring (grades K-5), speech therapy and counseling. According to Drake, there are no other universities in Georgia that offer this spectrum of services within one college.

ECED students can choose between two paths of certification (Dual Certification in Early Childhood Education and Special Education or Early Childhood Education). As mentioned by Drake, only 12 of the 35 post-secondary institutions in Georgia offer both. Within those tracks, students gain more than 1,100 hours of clinical experience in the K-5 classroom. In comparison to other programs, this number is well above average.

UWGLive, formerly the award-winning TeachLive, provides students with immersive classroom simulation experiences. It is a mixed-reality teaching environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content. The virtual classroom experience allows future teachers to practice and develop important skills before entering the “real” classroom. Various programs within COE use the technology, and few other programs in the state offer this experience.

ECED undergraduate Mileigh Rabun teaches third grade at Northside Elementary School in Newnan through a unique internship provided by COE. She said she believes the relationships between professors and students distinguish the program from other colleges that may have hundreds of students in classes.

“You can tell that these professors genuinely care about their students’ success,” she shared. “Dr. (Jennifer) Edelman, Dr. Drake and Dr. (Tom) Peterson, to name a few, have taken the time to talk to me as an individual instead of generalizing me just as another student in class.”

Combining experiences with relationships truly make ECED a distinguished program.

“We are truly a unique program that gives our students a first-rate education at a very affordable tuition rate,” Drake concluded. “We probably are the best-kept secret in the state—maybe in the south!”

Posted on December 15, 2017