They say it takes a village to raise a child, but on the New Mexico State University campus, there is an entire village of children helping to raise teachers.
Situated near the south end of campus, Myrna's Children's Village exists as a collaboration of seven different programs designed to serve the community in various ways. While the locale is known as an educational, financially accessible and high-quality childcare service for Las Cruces families, the Village also provides a platform for early childhood education students at NMSU to gain valuable training.
The NMSU School for Young Children's laboratory school is a site that plays an integral role in accompanying courses required for NMSU's education majors and student teacher candidates. Students may enter these classrooms to observe, conduct appropriate activities with groups of children or to serve as teacher's aides.
"We provide a great place for pre-service teachers to come and do their field experience, and really get that hands-on quality experience under the direction and supervision of highly-qualified teachers," said Sara Melendrez, director of both Myrna's Children's Village and NMSU's School for Young Children.
Alongside seven full-time teachers, the laboratory school continuously employs 15 part-time student workers. Additionally, it caters to students enrolled in the university course "Curriculum Development through Play," which is offered through the College of Education's early childhood education program. This three-credit course is accompanied by a two-credit practicum class, in which the students are required to fulfill six hours a week of classroom experience in the laboratory school.
"We'll talk about theory in class, and then they'll go and practice it with the young children, and they'll come back and we'll talk about it again," said Melendrez, who also serves as professor of the course. "They're learning. You can just see it evolving and making connections for them — that is really amazing."
The laboratory school first began 33 years ago in the basement of O'Donnell Hall, as a resource for pre-service teachers. This service has since expanded to not only accommodate the handful of students working in the School for Young Children, but benefits nearly 300 NMSU education students per year, who are appropriately placed in different classrooms throughout the entire village, which caters to roughly 170 children.
According to Melendrez, depending on what course a professor is teaching, they will request that their student get placed at a site which would be the most beneficial, as there are distinct differences between how each program runs.
While the majority of the students who get placed by their professors will only observe over the period of a few visits, student workers and practicum students are provided with a more thorough educational involvement.
As these students work alongside experienced professionals, they help with the daily needs and care of the children, facilitate activities, help document what the children and teachers are doing and are familiarized with how various activities introduce scientific concepts or stimulate cognitive learning in children.
"So pretty much everything that you would need to be a childcare giver, they do. With some training, of course," said Melendrez. They also gain "confidence in themselves. I think that's the big one."
"They're not always going to stay here," she said. "When they're done, they're going to go out into the community, so I feel that we're helping the community in that sense — because we're going to have highly qualified teachers working at our schools."
Melendrez said that the students are very appreciative of this opportunity, and often feel more qualified when applying for jobs following graduation.
"They can really speak of all of this experience they have, and I think that's important. I think that's why I'm here, where I am, because I had that professor that took that chance and gave me responsibilities," said Melendrez, who worked at the laboratory school for four years while she was earning her licensure and master's degree in early childhood education from NMSU.
"It's neat. It seems like it's come full circle," she said. "I just love it."