By Dr. Cindy Martinez, Associate Dean in WNMU College of Education, Associate Professor of Early Childhood
In 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham advocated for and the NM Legislature designated four Centers of Excellence at New Mexico higher education institutions. The Centers of Excellence would be charged with collaborating across public and private entities to innovate in job creation, business development and advancement of the field. Then, the COVID 19 pandemic hit and there were no more designations, until now. In 2022, the New Mexico Legislature designated a new Center of Excellence for the state at Western New Mexico University focusing on early childhood.
Unlike other self-designated early childhood centers, the WNMU Center of Excellence in Early Childhood has received this legislative designation for having developed a full-service center that has been providing early childhood and family services for decades. With the embedded Family Counseling Center, the WNMU Center of Excellence in Early Childhood provides is a forward-thinking, multi-faceted approach to improving the field of early childhood education and care that goes beyond child care. This is a statewide endeavor emanating out of Grant county in the southwestern corner of the state reaching into all regions of New Mexico.
But first, let’s look at the child care aspect of the WNMU Center of Excellence in Early Childhood. The WNMU Child Development Center (CDC) provides the highest quality of care for infants, toddlers and preschool children, having been nationally accredited since 1992. Within the Early Childhood Education and Care department’s quality rating system, WNMU’s CDC has consistently maintained the highest rating of 5Star. WNMU CDC is also an active research site for study of early childhood best practice, with partner sites in Santa Fe and Las Cruces.
Then there is the WNMU early childhood teacher preparation program which offers degrees at all levels in early childhood education; AA, BA, and graduate level. When combining students enrolled at the main campus, online across the state and at the influence of the WNMU teacher preparation programs can be seen in most school districts and many licensed child care centers in New Mexico. Recently in response to the states’ needs, some of which have been identified in the Yazzie/Martinez court case, WNMU launched a master’s program in early childhood education with a focus on trauma-informed practices. This advanced degree specifically trains teachers and other educational leaders in evidenced-based practices to work with our youngest members of society who have experienced some form of trauma. Additionally, WNMU is soon to announce a doctoral degree program in early childhood education with a focus on trauma-informed practices.
When the pandemic began, WNMU was the only higher education institution that launched a free information and support site for all early childhood teachers. This (still active) site hosted all of the information and documents from the Public Education and Early Childhood Education and Care departments regarding COVID protocols and policy changes for teaching in person and remotely. The site also provided many teacher materials and resources to support a workforce that was asked to carry on while completely changing how education was to be provided during that difficult time.
By reaching into all regions of the state, from high quality child care, early childhood research, family counseling, and teacher preparation among other programs, WNMU’s Center of Excellence in Early Childhood has shown that it merits the legislative designation. Providing the New Mexico early childhood field this depth of training, care, practice and support in New Mexico by New Mexicans is culturally-responsive and improves early childhood across the state.