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Willie Price Lab School earns national accreditation

Willie Price Lab School, located on the University of Mississippi campus, has been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

NAEYC is an organization that recognizes top standards in early childhood education, and Willie Price is one of only 24 programs in Mississippi to achieve this designation. Less than 10 percent of programs nationwide  – approximately 7,000 institutions – hold this accreditation, according NAEYC data.

Sarah Langley, who serves as director of Willie Price Lab School and spearheaded the school’s path to accreditation, said the two-year process has completely changed many aspects of the school and the way teachers approach early childhood education.

“There are a couple of things about Willie Price that have never changed, and those things are that it’s always been a happy place and a diamond in the rough, so to speak,” Langley said. “But, just because it was great doesn’t mean there weren’t opportunities for improvement. I think the level of commitment is stronger, as well as the dedication to the craft of teaching, because of this process.”

To earn the accreditation, schools must meet 10 research-based standards, which range from instructional techniques to safety, nutrition, staffing and community engagement. Throughout the process, Willie Price staff worked to meet and document hundreds of criteria within these standards and received support from the university’s Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning to work with an accreditation consultant.

From maintaining performance portfolios for each of the school’s 72 three- and four-year-old students to changing classroom layout and the methodology behind shaping young minds to be lifelong learners, the faculty at Willie Price worked hard to meet NAEYC’s high standards, Langley said.

According to the school’s assistant director Alyce Krouse, Willie Price’s curricular transformation was equally matched by a physical transformation.

“We literally had to break this place down and rebuild it. We took everything out of every classroom and put it in one room,” Krouse said. “It’s categorized by manipulatives, math, art and sensory tools. When a teacher needs something, they can come here and pull what they need from the main hub.”

The layout of Willie Price classrooms are designed to promote optimal learning for all children. Instead of providing traditional whole-group activities, classrooms are designed to let children self-select different learning centers.

Research shows this method of teaching young children allows for greater independence and engagement in a structured learning environment, according to a statement from the University.

Rollie Carson, who teaches three-year-olds, said the difference she’s seen in her students since the school started pursuing NAEYC accreditation is astounding.

“It’s learning through play, but for us, it’s very intentional,” Carson said. “We’re looking at what they’re playing with, where we’re trying to get them to go and how we’re trying to get them to extend their thinking.”

Something that seems as simple as arts and crafts, Carson explained, is transformed into a multidimensional learning experience. One of her favorite units, she said, involved having students create Picasso-inspired paintings, which created the opportunity for them to hone motor skills, learn about art history and about the culture in Spain, Picasso’s home country.

All of these objectives are endorsed by NAEYC and logged into the students’ portfolios, so both parents, future instructors and the accrediting organization have clear evidence of a child’s progress.

NAEYC accreditation benefits more people than just the students, Langley said. Because Willie Price also serves as a learning facility for education majors at the UM School of Education, undergraduates and graduate assistants are able to gain hands-on experience in a high-performing accredited school.

“We’ve seen firsthand that when our graduate assistants are getting ready to leave and start teaching, principals are very interested and impressed that these graduate students in particular have had a year of student teaching in undergrad and then  another year as a graduate student at Willie Price,” Langley said. “It speaks to the level of how prepared they are. They’re more confident. They’ve seen things in action and can take it and apply it to their own classrooms.”

Willie Price operates 10 months per year on the Ole Miss campus. For more information about enrollment and the school’s curriculum visit http://willieprice.olemiss.edu.