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ELC enriches pediatric rehabilitation studies

James Galloway (kneeling), assistant professor of physical therapy, observes the interactions among doctoral students Stephanie Ciervo (left) and Sean Umstead (second from left) with Early Learning Center infant teacher Becky Brown (holding baby Nevan) and Megan Schaefer, the associate director of UD’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic, which is housed within the center.
11:52 a.m., Aug. 19, 2005--The University of Delaware Early Learning Center has carved out an important niche nationally as a functioning laboratory for the study of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and in the future may well serve as a model for other institutions of higher education to follow.

UD’s James C. “Cole” Galloway, assistant professor of physical therapy and academic adviser to the department’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic, said he believes his doctoral course in pediatrics serves as a case in point.

“It is not unusual to have a pediatrics course in clinical curriculums such as physical therapy,” Galloway said. “What is different is housing a pediatrics course in a working child care center, and in a child care center that has been built with education in mind.”

The UD Early Learning Center is fully equipped with the latest in technology and observation areas that provide views of the 22 working classrooms. And, in just one year of operation, it also has developed an exceptionally positive atmosphere in which collaborative efforts among children, parents, administrators, students and professors are embraced.

Galloway said he has been impressed with the support of the UD administration as faculty members from a wide spectrum of departments and disciplines seek innovative ways to use the center. “In my case, it was a leap of faith to house an entire course in the Early Learning Center,” he said. “Mind you, conducting all lectures and labs within a child care center is something that has never been done nationally, that we know of. Everyone from administration to colleagues encouraged me to be as creative as possible in building a national caliber course. That support helps a great deal.”

Galloway is clearly enthused with the Early Learning Center. “If you want to educate professional students about typical and atypical development, what better place to go than a child care center?” he asked. “Here we have access to 150 and 200 children from all walks of life. This level of access to children changes everything. Typically in a course such as this, you would bring one child into the class and have 32 graduate students gathered around watching their every move. At the Early Learning Center, our students interact with five to 10 children, from infants and toddlers through preschool and school age every day, if not every hour.”

This interaction is important, Galloway said, because a key concept in pediatric rehabilitation is the wide range of “typical development” of children. “We are all amazingly different as we are growing up,” he said, “thus, it is critical that students have the opportunity to see that development happens in many ways.”

He said he believes that this is a message of importance to clinicians, researchers and policy makers, who, he said, would benefit from a visit to the center to “recalibrate their understanding of ‘typical development.'”

The center provides a special look at the issue because the children who attend represent a broad cross section of the community and not just the financial or educational elite.

It also serves an important function as a central repository of information and dialogue for all professionals interested in child welfare. “The Early Learning Center is having an impact not just on the children who go there but on the professionals who work with children,” Galloway said. “There is an intersection of people who work in various aspects of child development and education.”

Schaefer (left) helps baby Nevan negotiate stairs as grad student Umstead and infant teacher Brown watch.
The center is “taking education in child-related services to a new level,” Galloway added. Instead of talking about development in a lecture hall, he said faculty can take students to observe the development “of 20 infants, 20 toddlers and 20 preschoolers.” Instead of a PowerPoint presentation on pediatric rehabilitation of children with special needs, UD students interact directly with pediatric clinical specialists, such as Megan Schaefer, the associate director of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Clinic, which is housed within the center.

“For my course, I have taken advantage of as many aspects of the center as possible: clinical faculty, classroom teachers, Early Learning Center administration and the exceptional facilities,” Galloway said.

He added, “The center presents an opportunity for an apprentice style of learning, which does not have to be unique to graduate level education. I can envision a number of courses, both graduate and undergraduate in a variety of departments, making use of the center in similar ways.”

Galloway said he believes that UD faculty members have not yet begun to realize what can be accomplished in making the best possible use of the Early Learning Center. “When you stop to think about what the center has to offer, the opportunities are so very numerous,” he said. “It is a living, breathing lab.”

He said he suspects that professors who get to know the center will be inclined to revamp their courses to include time there.

“The potential here is very exciting,” Galloway said. Through these academic and clinical experiences, UD is helping to shape early intervention across Delaware. We can now begin exporting what UD is doing to other universities. My guess is that other institutions will realize they need an early learning center.”

The real thrill to Galloway is seeing the growth of not just his students but also the children with whom they work. “These children reflect the community, and it is the real world right there, which is just what every teacher would want,” he said. “So much energy is being focused on these children, and when you do that, amazing things happen.”

“This,” Galloway said, “is the type of project that produces a very positive legacy. Both my students and I appreciate this unique learning opportunity.”

Article by Neil Thomas
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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