By Erin Gabel, Photo Editor
As a group of three-year-old boys play, ferociously batting at a rope attached to the jungle gym– the final swing snags the rope just outside of the boy’s reach.
“Miss Maddy, will you get the rope down?” one of the boys asked, jumping up and down and pointing excitedly.
“No,” said Maddy Chevlier, assistant teacher at the daycare, and Cuesta Early Childhood Education graduate.
“But let’s think about how you can get it down!” said Chevlier.
The philosophy of Cuesta’s Early Childhood Education Program, “learn through play,” provides the children an unique learning environment and allows Cuesta lab students to witness learning in real time.
“The daycare is a wonderful environment for the children,” said Haila Hafley-Kluver, director of the Children’s Center. “But it is also a great classroom for our college students.”
The daycare not only serves as an on-campus option for students, faculty, and community members needing childcare, but also serves as a lab, allowing students enrolled in ECE classes to learn real life applications.
In addition to having live interactions with the children under the direction of the human development chairperson, students observe live video through cameras located in some of the classrooms.
“The cameras are so helpful,” Hafley-Kluver said. “They allow students to zoom in on the children learning, and truly observe them grasping small motor skills or how they interact with the teachers and other students for example in very fine detail.”
The teacher training facility is in high demand among the community, with only 44 spots on the main campus and 24 on North County campus. Student parents have priority for the program, but there is currently a wait-list to be accepted.
The wait-list renews every semester; sign-ups begin in August and January after everyone currently enrolled in the program is offered a spot for the following semester.
Kimberly Fimbs, a parent in the program, doesn’t plan to leave until her son, Carson, is ready to move on to kindergarten because she says they love the program so much.
“The program is amazing, from the space to play to ratio of teachers and students to the children, and the activities they do with the kids- we love it!” Fimbs said.
About two-thirds of the funding for the daycare come directly from parent fees, while the remaining third is contributed through the general fund of Cuesta College. The program accepts children from 18 months to five years old and focuses on teaching children through play.
The learning through play philosophy comes in many forms, including access to the expansive play area, singing music, storytelling, and participating in arts and craft projects.
“Last week I came to visit with Carson to have lunch with him on one of my breaks from my classes,” said Fimbs. “They were making fresh squeezed orange juice!”
Celio Mercado, parent of three-year-old Gianna, says he has seen presentations on making pizza and hummus.
“The parents can hang out and help with presentations,” said Mercado. “The kids get to participate and test the final result.”
Even the head of the ECE program, Don Norton, visits the classrooms a couple times a week.
“I love going and singing with the children,” Norton said. “I go to all the classrooms, rotating through them, and play my guitar as well, every Tuesday and Thursday. I wish I could visit even more than I get to.”
Norton’s passion has translated through 40 years of working for the program. He was in the first graduating class of Cuesta’s ECE program in 1976, and was one of the first aids receiving an hourly wage working in the center.
When Norton’s class graduated, the program was located on the National Guard Army Base, behind Cuesta College. While the love of early education is the same throughout the program, today the daycare has some nicer digs, located on the southwest side of campus.
“This is such a unique program that not a lot of people know about,” said Jacee Homewood, paid intern and Cuesta College ECE student. “The facility makes it so unique.”
While the facility has up-to-date technology the level of care the teachers and ECE students bring to the children surpasses the physical surroundings
“The teachers really care,” Homewood said. “They are guiding the young and guiding us [ECE students] at the same time.”
And the parents bringing their children to the daycare echo the sentiment.
“The program is so well rounded,” Mercado said. “They channel the child’s energy, and let kids dictate their process of learning. Everyone is on the same page and [that is] encouraging the children in a fun environment, where they want to learn.”