The planning of the Early Childhood Education Program first began in the early 1990's with a group of faculty members from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the Department of Special Education, and practitioners in the field. The participants' Initial discussions focused on understanding the separate early childhood programs in each of the departments and determining the philosophical similarities between the individuals and programs. As a result of these discussions, the group members decided that a new "blended" program was in the best interest of the university students and the children and families they would work with, which led to the daunting task of developing a new program.
The new major program benefited from strong support by the Department of Special Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the College of Education, the University Curriculum Committee and the UW System Board of Regents. Developing the new courses, working with various departments and committees, and receiving endorsement from all interested parties took several years. Although the initial planning began in the early 1990's it wasn't until the spring of 2001 that the first cohort began in the program.
There are several unique aspects within the Early Childhood Education Program. There is a traditional face to face cohort program on campus. Applications for the on-campus ECE program are processed during the fall semester and up to thirty students are admitted to begin the program in the following spring.
There is also an online program available for students who have completed an Applied Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education (A.A.S. Early Childhood Education) and are eligible to transfer to UW-Whitewater with an articulation agreement. Applications for this transfer program called ECE4U are processed during the spring semester and up to twenty students are admitted to begin courses in the following summer.
Students who are admitted take courses together as a cohort. Cohort-based teaching and learning is an important focus of both programs. During the first semester students feel sometimes apprehensive about having the same people in classes throughout their training. Throughout the program they build formal and informal supports and practice using communication skills that contribute to a positive cohort climate. The ECE faculty wants students to acquire effective communication and team building skills which they will continue to apply in professional settings where team-based decisions affect the lives of young children and their families. During a study on cohorts, which we conducted a few years ago, we found that many students believe that cohort-based learning is a positive aspect of the program and that it allows them to develop supportive relationships that they hope will continue throughout their professional careers.
Every semester, students are involved in some type of fieldwork or directed teaching. Every attempt is made to ensure that students have a variety of placements (e.g. rural, urban, with learners who speak English as a second language, programs designed for families with low incomes, and teaching in a school abroad). The diverse placements that we seek for students provide them with opportunities to work with children and staff who are different from themselves. At UW-Whitewater, we believe it to be our responsibility to teach and learn about understanding diverse perspectives and viewpoints.
A reflective seminar is held five out of six semesters in which students have the opportunity to discuss their work in the field and to develop portfolios for assessment of students' knowledge, skills, and dispositions. The students in the Early Childhood Education Program develop three electronic portfolios. The faculty assists the students during their classes and during three seminars in developing high quality portfolios, which reflect a strong knowledge base and understanding of pertinent professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions.
Several field-based classes in this program are team taught by two faculty members. Usually, one of the faculty members has a strong background in a "special" education related field whereas the other faculty member has a background in "regular" education. The courses that are team taught are Observation and Reflection in Head Start, Planning for Individual Needs, and some Reflective Seminars. In portfolio writing seminars, instructors also work closely with staff from the Writing Center on campus to allow students to improve their writing skills and follow the publication manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).
Being a member of a cohort allows for a strong connection between the faculty and the students and offers unique opportunities for professional development. Students can work with faculty to co-present at state and national conferences. Past presentations have been about the ECE program and also about undergraduate research that students have been involved in with a faculty mentor. We support all students who seek out these opportunities as a way of beginning to network in professional circles, gaining valuable experience in presenting, and developing interests professionally that go beyond the classroom.
This program is a full-time three-year program and cannot be completed on a part-time basis. Students enter the program during the spring semester and complete coursework as members of a cohort. In addition to the course work students take, there is fieldwork and/or student teaching each semester. Students who should consider this program will have flexible schedules and ideally will not be working full time. Student teaching placements will be made based on what the cooperating teachers at a center or school feel is best for the children and families; placement times are secondarily set up to accommodate work schedules of student teachers.
Since students have the incredible opportunity to be in the field every semester they need to have reliable transportation. There are a few instances when students may be able to car pool with other students but those opportunities are not the norm. The faculty wants students to have diverse placements and this is not possible within a few mile radius of UW-Whitewater. Each student should expect to have at least one student teaching placement in or near Madison and one in or near Milwaukee or another urban area including Beloit, Racine, or Kenosha.