The university’s Center for Young Children is reopening this fall for the 2021-22 school year with a new curriculum, staff and philosophy.
The CYC is an early childhood program within the College of Education for children aged three to five years old. The CYC also serves as a research and training site for students in both COE programs and other university departments.
“Our mission is obviously first and foremost to serve children and families of the UNT community and local community,” said Ranita Cheruvu, CYC director and COE senior lecturer. “[…] This is [also] a space where different courses and different programs might send their own students, graduate and undergraduate, as part of their training and practice, like their field component.”
The play-based, emergent curriculum at CYC is based off of the interests, experiences and curiosities of the children in the program. The projects and inquiry being done at the center will stem from the children’s own interests and social-cultural experiences.
“We believe that play is the work of children,” Cheruvu said. “It’s work to them and it’s learning, but it’s not a separate thing. It’s not like there’s playtime and there’s learning time, but as they’re playing they’re making sense of the world. They’re making sense of social relationships and that’s the way that they learn.”
The center’s curriculum will also focus on an anti-bias and anti-racist aspect. Cheruvu said the CYC will help students develop their language to talk about bias, understand differences, recognize bias and develop critical thinking skills to “navigate that aspect of our world.” Another piece of the curriculum is culturally-relevant and culturally-sustaining teachings.
“We’re really looking through our work with children to not just recognize their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, but find ways to nurture and support it in the classroom so that we are really centering on that part of their identity and their experiences,” Cheruvu said. “That is directly connected to our bilingual program.”
For the first time, the CYC is offering a bilingual program for children from Spanish-speaking families. It is currently a mixed-age program taught by a native Spanish speaker.
There are other bilingual and dual-language programs in Denton, including independent preschools and preschool programs offered through Denton independent school district. Cheruvu said that there are different approaches to bilingual education and that the CYC’s goal is to foster the students’ emerging language abilities.
“When we think about bilingual education at this young age we have to recognize that kids come to us with a diverse range of their language practices,” Cheruvu said. “What we’re trying to do is meet them where they are and then to move them forward to continue that development in Spanish.”
The center has a new staff team that includes both university alumni and people from other universities. There are also assistant teachers who are current university students. Cheruvu said that these students do not have to be majoring in the COE, but they “all have some kind of interest in working with young children long term.”
Genesis Paz, a junior studying early childhood education through grade six with an English as a second language certification, has worked in childcare and preschool education for four years.
“I think it’s a learning tool,” Paz said. “You can see how other teachers run their classrooms, you can see things that you like and things that you don’t. [You can see] what works and what doesn’t work and you can also see [that] each group of kids is different. One thing could’ve worked with one group of kids and then you try it on the next group of kids and it doesn’t work.”
With the reopening of the center, CYC is offering limited reduced tuition for children of university students. Cheruvu said the bilingual program offers sliding-scale tuition that is based on family income and family size.
“Part of the application process is identifying if you are a UNT student [or] faculty member,” Cheruvu said. “[…] Then what we’re doing is reaching out to people who have indicated that they’re UNT students and based on our spots left, because it’s limited funds, we’re then reaching out to students and saying we have a spot available for a full-day tuition at this rate.”
The first day of school for the center will be Aug. 18. In preparation for the school year, the center hosted a meet and greet night.
“The thing that I’m most excited for now, as we wait the last two weeks before our reopening date, is simply for children to return to the center,” Associate Director Maggie Harvey said in an email. “We had a meet and greet night last week, and finally hearing families chatting to each other and seeing children exploring the space again was such a happy thing – a shared happy thing. I can’t wait for that to be every day of our school week.”
Cheruvu and Harvey have been planning for the CYC’s reopening throughout the summer. Teachers have also begun training and professional development.
“We’re really excited about the reopening — it’s not just a reopening, it’s also like a reimagining of this space,” Cheruvu said. “One thing that we’re really excited about in particular is that our undergraduate teacher education program has also been reimagined and so much of our reimagining of the CYC is really aligning those two. We’re really excited about being the place where our students can actually see the practices that we talk about in our undergraduate and graduate courses.”
Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles