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Center offers education for teachers, children

LAWRENCEVILLE - Danielle Cohl found a new day care center for her 18-month-old, but this one sits on a college campus and serves as a training ground for the state's future teachers.

Cohl was one of many working mothers taking a first-hand look Thursday at the new D. Scott Hudgens Jr. Early Education Center.

The $6.7 million addition to Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville will be officially unveiled at 7 a.m. Monday, but college officials wanted to offer a free tour beforehand.

Cohl said a teacher from her child's previous day care recently joined the new Center's 45-person staff, prompting Cohl to move her child.

"I think there will be less teacher turnover here because it's a state-affiliated facility and the benefits are better," Cohl said. "Visually it's open and airy, and they even have rubberized flooring on the playground. No more splinters to worry about."

The Center has the resources to serve 215 children from 6 weeks to 12 years old, including 14 classrooms, four indoor play areas, observation booths for training and three playgrounds.

But its other role - the one businesses and educators applaud - is on-the-job training for Georgia's newest teachers, the foot soldiers in the effort to raise the bar for early childhood education.

The origin of the Early Education Center was a community needs assessment that found a shortage of teachers for preschool aged children, said Mary Beth Byerly, Gwinnett Tech's executive director for institutional development.

The school began offering a two-year associate's degree in early childhood education in 2003.

Students in the program will learn the ropes from the Center's 37 teachers, all of whom have degrees in early childhood development.

The idea behind the program is to improve early childhood education in Georgia, laying the groundwork that will help students progress through the public school system and graduate on time.

It's why local businesses and community leaders raised $4 million to help build it. The Scott Hudgens family contributed about $1.4 million toward the effort.

"What we do here is why future third-graders are going to be on their target reading level," Byerly said. "We know that from birth to 3 years old is the most critical time for brain development."