The University of Alabama’s College of Education will launch the UA Early Learning Initiative at Gadsden in January 2021 at the University’s Gadsden Center.

The UA Early Learning Initiative at Gadsden will serve as a model early childhood education program. The program will provide area children and families with high-quality, inclusive learning experiences, act as a professional development site for teacher education students and practicing teachers from around the state and serve as a research site where UA faculty can conduct innovative research related to early childhood education and child development.

Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of UA’s College of Education, says the program will act as a showcase for the state.

“Our college is doing everything it can to make a good difference in the educational lives of children and their families,” said Hlebowitsh. “We are happy to bring our resources and expertise to the work of advancing early childhood education efforts across the state.

“The plan for the UA Early Learning Initiative at Gadsden is to conduct two working classrooms for 4-year-olds that will model best practices in the field and provide a proving ground for frontline research.”

The program will launch in January 2021 at the UA Gadsden Center in a wing that was recently renovated by UA’s College of Education. A playground is currently being installed to prepare for the opening.

The initiative will start with two pre-kindergarten classrooms funded in part through grants from the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. The initial classrooms will serve 36 children from Etowah County and surrounding counties at no or minimal cost to families.

Although the program will begin with two pre-K classrooms, the goal is to expand to serve infants, toddlers and 3-year-olds; offer after-school programming; provide on-site and virtual professional development; and serve as a hub for early childhood and family engagement initiatives.

The initiative will be led Dr. Cailin Kerch, clinical assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education; Dr. Alison Hooper, assistant professor of early childhood education; and Felicia Simpson, director of the Office of Expanded Learning and Community Supports.

The UA Early Learning Initiative at Gadsden is accepting pre-registration applications through Dec. 7. More information on enrollment, the selection process and application can be found at alprek.asapconnected.com.

The initiative is a collaboration among UA’s College of Education and College for Continuing Studies, the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education and the City of Gadsden.