Shotwell and Derbidge, the director of Little Leapers, have gradually remade the center and revamped their own instructional techniques over the last 10 months, thanks to experiential lessons and eye-opening discussions with peers that were made possible through Utah’s statewide rollout of free college courses for early childhood educators.
During her first year at the center, her enrollment numbers more than doubled to a total of 45 part- and full-time students, and she beefed up her staff, which now includes Shotwell, two other full-time teachers and a few part-time teachers.
At first, Derbidge was just trying to keep the operation running; she wasn’t zeroing in on the curriculum or the children’s learning outcomes yet. But as she settled into the new center—and attended more trainings as part of the 20 hours of annual professional development the state requires of its educators—Derbidge realized that the students at Little Leapers weren’t leaving prepared for kindergarten.
While Derbidge and her staff were considering how they could “bring in a more enriched learning environment for the kids,” the state was rolling out a suite of competency-based courses developed by the EarlyEdU Alliance, a collaboration of early childhood education experts led by the University of Washington. The courses were created to make higher education more accessible to early childhood educators and improve the quality of teaching in the field.