Kids on Campus
From Preschool to Pre-Professional
The Hudgens Center on the campus of Gwinnett Technical College offers the community innovative childcare and preschool
Author Robert Fulghum told us that everything we needed to know about life we learned in kindergarten. Turns out, that might be too late.
That principal lives in practice daily at the Hudgens Early Education Center on the campus of Gwinnett Technical College, where students in the same class might be 18 months or 18 years old. The Hudgens Center is an innovative childcare center and preschool that also serves as the live learning lab for Gwinnett Tech's Early Childhood Care and Education program.
Now approaching its second anniversary, the Hudgens Center is a 26,000-square-foot, two-story facility nestled on the back border of the Gwinnett Tech campus with space for just over 200 children. Open to the community, the center serves children ages six weeks to eight years, offering fulltime infant and toddler care, preschool, Montessori, Georgia Pre-K classes, summer camp and before- and after-school care.
Modeling Best Practices
Cliché but true – most of the Hudgens Center's physical features are state-of-the art. The center has the latest in security features including swipe-card access, in-class cameras and observation rooms with full audio capabilities. Olson and other administrators have the ability to monitor classroom activity via a desktop monitor and a wall-mounted, flat-screen serves communication needs in the spacious lobby. Outside, three playground areas are the type children dream of and clamor for – and each is designed for a specific age group.
What makes the Hudgens Center distinct in the area is its status as a laboratory school – a term reserved for childcare and preschool centers affiliated with college-level early education programs. In the world of academia, lab schools are the top of the mark in early childhood education.
"As a lab school for Gwinnett Tech, our sole purpose is to model the best practices in early childhood care and education," says Olson, who was director of UGA's prestigious McPhaul Child and Family Development Center prior to joining Gwinnett Tech to open and develop the Hudgens Center. "To provide the best site for future teachers, we have to emulate quality in everything we do."
"High quality care for young children is highly dependent on teacher ratios," Olson says. "Group size is also a big factor."
A Matter of Degrees
The education level of teachers is a primary indicator of high quality care – and a high priority for Olson. "As a training site, our goal is for all of our lead teachers to have a four-year degree. Right now, most of our teachers have a two-year degree."
Georgia's licensing requirements state that early childhood teachers and caregivers must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED®.
"The learning of the child is directly tied to the education level of the teacher," agrees Jane Hyche, program director for Gwinnett Tech's Early Childhood Care and Education program.
Hyche, Olson and their respective teams work in constant contact. Many Gwinnett Tech students complete their observations, practicums and internships at the Hudgens Center, under the direction of Hyche and while working with a mentor-teacher from the center.
"We teach the science of early education…the theories…what those best practices are. But the art of teaching is learned by watching and trying," says Hyche.
"If you have a mentor-teacher in the classroom, you get immediate feedback to improve your lesson. We want to develop confident teachers who believe in themselves and believe in their ability to turn the science into practice," Hyche adds.
With an ever-increasing list of honors to its credit, the program at Gwinnett Tech appears to be doing just that. For the last two years, the Georgia Association on Young Children's (GAYC) student of the year has been from Gwinnett Tech. Gwinnett Tech's early education students have also been back-to-back national gold medal winners in preschool teaching during the most recent SkillsUSA competition for technical colleges.
All are points of pride for a program almost as young as preschoolers themselves. Gwinnett Tech launched its Early Childhood Care and Education program in 2003, offering an associate of applied science degree and a diploma in the field. The degree program takes about five semesters to complete; the diploma takes four semesters to earn.
Enrollment in the program has skyrocketed, up 43 percent last year with enrollment now more than 300 students. Demand for these graduates is expected to remain high; education is identified as a field to be hit hard by retiring baby boomers in the coming years.
Not Just Child's Play
The curriculum at the Hudgens Center focuses on play-based learning. "It may look like just play to the untrained eye, but that is all planned so certain discoveries will take place," Hyche says.
Hands-on, active learning is the key, concurs Olson. "We cover all the developmental domains, but we do it in a way that is fun for the child."
There's important groundwork to be laid before that learning can occur. "We're providing a nurturing environment for children, where their social
Hudgens Center Plays Vital Community Role
While the Gwinnett Technical College campus is full of students in their 20's, there's one group on campus that bucks the trend.
At the D. Scott Hudgens, Jr. Early Education Center, age is just as likely to be measured in months as in years. Students are younger, shorter and gleefully enthusiastic about a curriculum that includes building blocks and playground time.
The Hudgens Center is, by design, multi-purpose. It is a model teaching center for the college's Early Childhood Care and Education program and, at the same time, an innovative preschool and childcare center open to the community.
Less obvious to the observer is the fact that the Hudgens Center is a driving force in workforce development and quality of life.
"We know that quality early education is a vital foundation for success in all levels of education and helps prepare our children for jobs in the 'industries of the mind,' " explains D. Glen Cannon, president, Gwinnett Technical College.
From the beginning, the Hudgens Center was also a model of a public and private partnership and the focus of strong community support. The center was launched with a major donation from the Scott Hudgens Family Foundation and Smart Start Georgia, eventually garnering support from more than 100 area businesses, corporations and individuals.
The center's three playgrounds were largely constructed during a weeklong community build that drew more than 1,600 volunteers whose donation of time – and sweat – was valued at more than $100,000.
To learn more or to register a child, call 678-226-6510 or visit www.GwinnettTech.edu/heec.
Gwinnett Technical College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, national or ethnic origin, gender, religion, disability, age, political affiliation or belief, disabled veteran, veteran of the Vietnam Era’ or citizenship status (except in those special circumstances permitted or mandated by law). For more information on compliance activities, contact Lisa Richardson, Title IX and Section 504 Coordinator, 5150 Sugarloaf Parkway, Building 100, Room 323B, Lawrenceville, GA 30043, 678-226-6691.