How UNLV’s preschool could shape education statewide

Published: May. 30, 2023 at 10:59 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Dozens of young kids in the Las Vegas Valley are helping with research by simply going to school, as the subjects of the research.

UNLV’s College of Education hosts a preschool for kids whose parents are UNLV students and faculty members, with about a third of enrollees having no connection to the university. Part of the preschool’s aim is to fill a sorely-needed gap.

“We are living in a child care desert,” Shin Silver, Assistant Director of UNLV’s preschool told FOX5 Tuesday.

The preschool is not just about giving UNLV students and faculty a place to put their kids, though. It’s also an incubator for those students and staff to see what works and what doesn’t in early childhood and special education.

“They’re able to learn evidence-based practices that enhance children’s learning in a play-based setting that’s totally age-appropriate,” Silver explained.

“(The goal is) to really understand what’s working well for children, what’s not working well for children, and what we can do to make the lives of children and families better,” said Jenna Weglarz-Ward, an associate professor at UNLV’s College of Education.

That emphasis is on families, and not just children, as a key component of the preschool.

“We have a study here that’s really looking at our university students that are also parents,” Weglarz-Ward said. “What do they need to be successful parents as well as successful students?”

This research has yielded tangible results. During the pandemic, researchers at the preschool worked withy several groups of teachers across the state on how to engage with families when the country was trying to chart the waters of remote learning.

“And then they took that into their classrooms, brought that back to us, told us how things were going, what needed to be fixed, how could we help them fix it, and then they continued to do that,” Weglarz-Ward said.

In the wake of that study, UNLV’s College of Education is working with some national early childhood and special education entities to see how best to implement their findings.

In addition to the College of Education, the preschool serves as an interdisciplinary incubator of ideas with students in architecture, fine arts, psychology, library sciences, business and marketing, and more taking part in studies there.

Currently, there’s a waitlist of about 250 parents trying to get their kids enrolled in the preschool with about a six month to two year wait. Kids can age out of preschool during that time, so there’s a multimillion-dollar expansion planned to increase capacity. That project has recently received a $10 million anonymous gift and now has $8 million left to raise until it’s fully-funded.