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Early childhood education program redesigned at UCF

By Abbigail Gately
On February 24, 2013

The College of Education is suspending its early childhood education program at the end of the semester, a decision that has students and community members wondering about the future of the program at UCF.

The College of Education currently has two undergraduate early education tracks that will be affected by the change. The first is the teacher certification track, a major designed for those who are looking to teach Pre-K through third grade. The second is a development track, a degree tailored for those who are not seeking to be certified teachers.

The early education minor and doctorate program will not be part of the merge.

The plan is to merge faculty from the early childhood education program with the elementary education program.

Students who are currently studying early childhood education will not be part of the newly designed program and will continue on with their studies.

It will take years before the changes become incorporated within the program, according to a press release.

A petition was started on Change.org to stop the suspension of the early childhood program. The title is University of Central Florida: Do not suspend the early childhood development and education program, and the petition has gained more than 1,000 signatures.

Beth Paris, a student who is receiving her masters degree in the early education program, said the program suspension is not addressing the needs of everyone who will be impacted by the change.

I think they are ignoring the population of students that would benefit from that degree, Paris said. I think they are ignoring the children that would benefit from teachers with this type of degree. I think they are ignoring a group of community partners who understand the value of that degree and look for graduates to hire that have that degree.

Courtney Gilmartin, a UCF News and Information spokeswoman, said in a press release that the change was to better prepare K-6 teachers and to grant the needs of local schools.

The combination of the two programs will offer students more room to move around in the field of education, said Grant Hayes, the colleges executive associate dean.

Graduates from the reworked program will leave UCF with the flexibility and certification eligibility to fill positions in both elementary and early childhood environments, Hayes said in a press release.

The change came near the same time President Barack Obama addressed in his State of the Union speech that one of his platforms for education was to push early childhood education programs such as Head Start.

According to the Administration for Children and Families, Head Start is a federal program that engages children up to the age of 5 from low-income families in school readiness.

Programs such as Head Start require students to have a four-year bachelors degree in early childhood education on a non-teacher-certification track.

Paris said UCFs suspension of the program does not show the true power of the program or the growing field of early childhood education.

Personally, it is upsetting because I believe in the field, and I believe in the power of what this undergraduate degree has done for the UCF community, Paris said.

When Angela Vatalaro, an early education doctoral student, asked Robinson what data proved the need for the change, Robinson said no data had been collected.

They said that this change will follow along with the nationwide course standards. But this decision is the opposite of the national trend, Vatalaro said.

Vatalaro said the push from the president and the state of Florida in supporting education programs is a step backward for the university, because UCF seems to be moving away from early childhood education, while the country seems to push forward.

Students who are looking to get an early childhood education bachelors degree from UCF will be able to participate in the 2+2 program. This program pairs with Seminole State College to allow students to complete their core early childhood classes in their first two years and then transfer to UCF to finish the rest.

The expansion of this program may be partnered with other universities around the state in the future.

The future of the doctorate program has yet to be determined. Dean Sandra Robinson said in an open forum on Monday that no students applied for acceptance into the program.

Hayes said in the press release that the changes show UCFs commitment to the teachers it is training.

The change to our curriculum shows our colleges commitment to being responsive to a changing educational environment, and it helps to fulfill our goal of preparing our teacher candidates in a way that maximizes their potentials for gaining employment in Central Florida and throughout the state, Hayes said.

Paris said the changes ignore the needs of UCF students who do not want to switch colleges for their degree.

They are also completely ignoring the students who do not want to go to Seminole to get a early childhood education degree, Paris said.

For Paris, the change is putting a halt to her future plans.

My ultimate career goal is to come back and teach at the early childhood education program here as faculty, and that is certainly on the table here, Paris said.

Provost Tony Waldrops final decision on the suspension will be held in a committee meeting on March 12 at noon, in the Biological Sciences Building, room 221.

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