NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Stephen F. Austin State University will celebrate the opening of its new Early Childhood Research Center on July 19 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, children's singing performances and public tours of the $30.8 million one-of-a-kind facility.
The grand-opening celebration will begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. followed by tours from 2:30 to 4 at the new center located at 2428 Raguet St. Parking for the public will be available in the Aikman Drive garage on the southwest corner of Raguet and East College streets.
The new 120,000-square-foot facility brings under one roof the nationally accredited Early Childhood Laboratory, "exemplary" rated University Charter School and award-winning Department of Elementary Education. SFA is the only university in the state of Texas operating both an early childhood laboratory and a charter school in conjunction with educator-preparation programs with a proven track record of success.
"This arrangement is what allows us to teach in our college classrooms the innovative techniques and cutting-edge curriculum that are modeled in our high-performing lab and charter school," said Dr. Janice Pattillo, chair of the Department of Elementary Education. "That day-to-day collaboration has always been unique to SFA, and this new building will expand our ability to integrate our teacher preparation courses and our children's education programs."
The mission of the Early Childhood Research Center is twofold, Pattillo said. First, it is to improve the quality of life for children and families in rural East Texas by integrating teaching, research and dissemination of information. Secondly, it is to conduct research related to the results of quality instruction on student learning, teacher preparation and retention, as well as the long-term effects of the instructional model used in the Early Childhood Laboratory and the University Charter School. In addition to supporting SFA's academic endeavors, the center will provide outreach programs and services to area school districts and community agencies.
The first floor of the new building will house both the Early Childhood Lab and the University Charter School. A total of 300 children, ranging from infants to fifth graders, will be enrolled in the two education programs. Spaces for the elementary education faculty and staff, college classrooms, a computer lab, and a grants and research area will occupy the second floor of the building.
Each long semester, more than 2,000 SFA students use the lab and charter school for observation, participation and other educational purposes. In the new center, the children's classrooms will have microphones suspended from the ceiling to allow SFA students to watch and listen to the interaction between the teachers and their students from adjacent observation rooms. The observations will be guided by SFA professors who will have the capability to communicate with the college students through headphones as they are conducting the guided observations.
"The new facility also provides a means for videotaping successful teaching strategies in the classrooms, and these videos can then be integrated into many of our online teacher preparation courses using streaming video," Pattillo said.
The facility also includes a state-of-the-art security and monitoring system that utilizes card-swipe technology to help ensure the children's safety. The outdoor play space was designed by Grounds for Play, which specializes in creating play environments that meet the needs of children for safe, stimulating outdoor experiences.
The Department of Elementary Education enrolls about 1,200 college students in early childhood through sixth-grade and fourth- through eighth-grade preparation programs, as well as a variety of master's programs. It is part of the James I. Perkins College of Education, which is fully accredited through the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
"SFA was originally founded as a teachers college more than 85 years ago, and the completion of this building will help us build on that strong tradition of teacher preparation while expanding our research capacity to positively impact many future generations of Texas school children," said Dr. Mel Finkenberg, interim dean of the Perkins College of Education.
The public is encouraged to attend the July 19 grand-opening celebration to learn more about the new Early Childhood Research Center and its programs, said Bob Wright, executive director of marketing and public affairs at SFA.
"There will be demonstrations taking place throughout the building on the day of the grand opening, so visitors will really be able to gain an understanding of the significance of this education facility and how it will serve our SFA students, area school children and their families, as well as the community at large," he said. "We encourage everyone with an interest in our university or in education in general to join us as we celebrate with our SFA family this latest exciting addition to our campus."