Early care and education for children is a key piece of the university's history.

COURTESY PHOTO: MARK BAILEY - Students from the ELC spend much of their time outdoors and in nature as part of the curriculum.For over 150 years, Pacific University in Forest Grove has been providing education and care for students in one way or another. Dating back to 1848, the Rev. Harvey Clark and Tabitha Brown, a former teacher from Massachusetts, cared for and educated orphans of the Oregon Trail on what is now the campus of Pacific University.

More than a century and a half later, the university still prides itself on the education it provides students, the programs it offers to help aspiring teachers educate the future generations and the care it offers for young children.

Not only does the university offer programs to educate college students, but it boasts an early child learning and development center on campus.

Mark Bailey has been teaching at Pacific for over two decades and is the founder of what is called the Early Learning Community (ELC).

"Ten years ago, I received a grant for a million dollars to start a school," Bailey said. "We were looking for a model learning environment to take the theory and manifest it in practice."

Starting with three classrooms for preschoolers through kindergarteners, Bailey put great time and effort into creating the ideal learning environment that he felt would best serve and appeal to young children.

"In the process of designing this and receiving the grant, the university saw the opportunity and so they built Berglund Hall literally on the foundations of this grant and on this opportunity," Bailey said.

Berglund Hall is now home to the College of Education, Bailey said. The ELC is located on the first floor of the building.

"(This allows the) students who are studying early childhood education to literally study across the hall and come over and come see the theory manifest in practice," he said.

"The university was really rooted in education," said Joe Lang, director of media relations for Pacific. "We have always had education as part of the college curriculum."

All of the lead teachers in the ELC are Pacific graduates, Bailey said.

"Not intentionally, but because it turned out they were the best qualified," he said.COURTESY PHOTO: MARK BAILEY - Students from the ELC spend much of their time outdoors and in nature as part of the curriculum.

The classrooms were each designed to serve as a welcoming and open space that expose as much natural light as possible, and the center was created with a heavily nature-based emphasis. From the design of the classrooms, to the projects students work on, the concepts they learn about and even the outdoor area for students to play in, everything circulates around nature. Behind the facility is a fenced-in area of fruit and vegetables planted and picked by students, a butterfly garden, a miniature cabin-like structure that serves as the "secret garden home," a music garden, and many other "outdoorsy" features.

"The concept that we are really working on fostering is what is referred to as 'ecological literacy,'" Bailey said. "That is the notion of understanding the environment, people's connection to the environment, caring for that environment on a visceral kind of manner, and then working to be stewards of our environment so that ethic of care is steeped deeply in a personal and physical connection to the world."

The education provided at the ELC focuses on "place-based education," where students learn to study what's in their backyard, Bailey said.

"We are going outside as much as we possibly can," he said.

The students recently raised and released trout and salmon, and they will be raising more amphibians and insects soon, Bailey said. They also take as many field trips as they can, whether that be to the Tillamook State Forest or just a nearby pond.

The construction will soon start on the center's newest project: building an outdoor classroom on the empty 6,000-square-foot area just outside the building. The center recently received a small curriculum grant, which will be used for Bailey's idea of "STEM taken outdoors," or NATURES, curriculum. That acronym stands for "numeracy, arts and expression, technology, universal rights, reading and writing, engineering, and science," Bailey said, and it will be incorporated into the new "Cedar Classroom."

"(We use) this idea of bringing the outdoors in but taking the children out as well to really study in a natural environment," Bailey said.

What's most unique about the center, however, is the incorporation of college students studying to be educators as well.

"Every year, we have over 3,000 hours of graduate and undergraduate student visits of optometry, audiology, communications and sciences and disorders, and child development students, who come and spend time here to get some hands-on experience with testing audiology equipment with young children, or doing assessments of their speech and language development or child development students," Bailey said.

Through the university's Master of Arts in Teaching program (MAT), students are placed in different schools throughout the community to assist in teaching while pursuing their degree. Some of these students teach right there on their own campus in the ELC.

The students work alongside the lead teachers in a collaborative manner rather than in observation, Bailey said.

Sam Cauthorn is currently enrolled in the MAT program and is finishing up his placement at the ELC.

Studying economics and math in his undergraduate studies at the University of Montana, he took nine years off to pursue his music career, he said.

More than a year ago, Cauthorn was working in construction near the campus when he saw a sign to apply to pursue a career in teaching, he said.

"I decided to apply, and here I am," Cauthorn said. "It's been awesome so far."

On Friday, March 16, Cauthorn brought in several guitars for students to play with. He had been giving guitar lessons to children during the years between his schooling, which was his first teaching experience, he said.

Caulhorn will be qualified to teach K-12 education once he graduates from the program. He has also been working in the classroom at Neil Armstrong Middle School.COURTESY PHOTO: MARK BAILEY - Sam Cauthorn is pursuing a master's degree in teaching while getting hands-on experience in the ELC.

The ELC is open to the public and works on a first-come, first-served basis. The classrooms max out at 20 students each, in order of keeping the teacher-student ratio small.

There has been some demand over the years from parents for the ELC to extend its practice through the fourth grade, Bailey said. The center currently teaches preschool through second grade and may consider expanding further in the future, he said.

"I think we are rather unique," Bailey said. "We have had a really positive impact on children's education here in Forest Grove."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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