NU Board to consider early childhood center addition at UNK

(NTV News)

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents will consider adopting an expanded plan for one of the University of Nebraska at Kearney's buildings that has yet to break ground.

The board will meet on on June 28 to discuss adding 2,100 square feet to UNK's plan for its Early Childhood Education Center.

An additional $1.4 million in funding was provided as a gift, and the board will consider a new name for the building: LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center.

“This will be the premier early childhood education center in the Midwest and we are so grateful to Dr. Plambeck for her leadership in this area,” said Dean of the College of Education Sheryl Feinstein.

The ECEC is the first academic footprint on UNK’s developing University Village and will become a model for exemplary early childhood education, early childhood educator preparation, and research. In addition to training undergraduate and graduate students and integrating coursework from all across all three of UNK’s academic colleges and University of Nebraska Medical Center, the ECEC will serve Kearney-area children and families with developmentally appropriate early education for a diverse population.

Undergraduate and graduate experiential learning will occur in the building in the forms of practicums, internships, observations and diagnostic testing. For example, working with a curriculum designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, teaching early literacy strategies, and diagnostic testing in the areas of speech, language skills and cognitive development. The building will facilitate learning and improve undergraduate and graduate students’ skills working with young children including relationship-building, classroom management and age-appropriate expectations.

“This education center will improve service to area children and enhance educational experiences for UNK students and faculty. That improves our community,” said Feinstein. “The project will grow our early education program to increase the quality of services provided and the number of young children enrolled. Early education programs, majors and minors across campus will benefit from state-of-the-art learning environments. This larger facility will also enable UNK and ECEC to increase collaborations that involve academics, research, and outreach to community, and state and national organizations.”

Feinstein said the facility will also advance and create new partnerships at the community, state and national levels.

“With the Buffett Institute, we can increase the early childhood workforce in Nebraska while developing a high-quality component to the workforce; increase our partnership with Buffalo County community partners in curriculum and mental health collaborations; work on early literacy programs and research with the Nebraska Library Commission and the Nebraska School Librarians Association; and work with the National Coalition for Campus Children’s Centers and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on resources supporting and educating student parents.”

When completed in fall 2019 the ECEC will feature three research-based philosophies of Early Childhood Education: Eclectic (Waldorf, Reggio and others), Montessori, and Project Based. One classroom will be devoted to Project Based Early Childhood Education, two classrooms to Montessori, and eight classrooms to Eclectic.

The building was originally approved in January 2017 as a $6.4 million, 17,800-square-foot project that replaces the childcare center space in the Otto C. Olsen building. The Plambeck gift brings the total project cost to $7.8 million and 19,900 square feet that will include two dedicated Montessori education classrooms. The naming recognizes a leadership gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation by Plambeck, for her undisclosed gift for construction, endowing a Montessori education professorship and establishing endowed excellence funds for early childhood programs.

“Dr. Plambeck’s generosity and vision will make a profound difference in the lives of children and in the preparation of highly qualified early-childhood educators for generations to come,” UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen.

The facility replaces the Child Development Center in the existing 1955 Otto Olsen building, which cares for and educates 60 children – with ongoing waiting list of 75 from infants to age 6. The capacity for the new LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center will be 176.

The Plambeck gift includes an endowed professorship in Montessori education, which will enable UNK to increase its offerings in Montessori education by hiring a professor of excellence in Montessori. It also includes an endowed excellence fund for early childhood programs. These funds will help UNK deliver outreach services to early childhood providers in Nebraska with a focus on rural communities through workshops, professional development, and in-service through on-site and on-line modes.

Kristensen said LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck of Omaha has been a “fierce advocate” for early childhood education for nearly 50 years. Described as an educational legend and visionary, Plambeck has understood and invested in high-quality experiences for babies and young children decades before recent research confirmed her actions.

Inspired by the Montessori teaching method, based on a philosophy that puts much of the responsibility and freedom for learning within a child’s control, she opened Omaha’s first Montessori Educational Center in 1968 and later added seven locations and opened schools in Denver and Fort Worth. She launched the Mid-America Montessori Teacher Training Institute to provide professionals with training and certification.

In addition to working on early childhood education extensively with UNO, UNK, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, College of Saint Mary’s and Concordia University, she has served the Nebraska Association of Young Children, the American Montessori Society Board of Directors and Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education, an advisory committee on early childhood education for the State of Nebraska, and was appointed to a White House conference on families.

“Dr. Plambeck’s support for this new facility in Kearney and her permanent support for UNK faculty members and academic programs is yet another extension of her tremendous interest in education and her life’s work in this vital area of early childhood education,” said University of Nebraska Foundation President and CEO Brian Hastings.

Pending Board approval, the building will be funded by state funds through LB 957 and dedicated facility funds from the Plambeck gift.

A celebration and ceremonial ground-breaking for the building is planned for September.

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