Allan Hancock College students scurried to find their first classes of fall semester Monday, while a select few embarked on their first tour of new, state-of-the-art Childcare Center facilities.
Some early childhood studies students at the college’s main campus in Santa Maria got their inaugural look at the completed Childcare Center Addition, which features an innovative indoor and outdoor lab school within the existing Family and Consumer Education Center.
The students were among more than 10,000 others who returned Monday to the college’s campuses in Santa Maria, Lompoc, Solvang and at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
While the indoor Childcare Center upgrades were completed in January — with new observation rooms and more classrooms among them —final touches to the center’s outdoor classroom weren’t finished until late summer.
The end result is that about 1,700 Hancock students will have the opportunity to observe and participate in hands-on learning at a child-care lab specifically designed to train teachers, said Thesa Roepke, an associate professor in early childhood studies.
Roepke credits that innovative learning experience and dedicated faculty and staff with helping students maintain a 90-percent retention rate.
“We want to make sure they get acclimated,” she told Noozhawk on Monday. “All other courses have some type of lab component.”
Faculty and staff earlier this year moved into the indoor addition to the center, which allows college students to observe and teach day-care children (infants through 5-year-olds) who are mostly the offspring of other Hancock students and a smaller number of college staff.
Roepke said live-feed video is a major plus of the new observation rooms that allow college students to safely study behaviors without impacting the children.
The outdoor portion incorporates nature via special features, including a secret garden, a water wall, a sand area, swing sets and more.
“The outdoor classroom is really bringing children back to nature,” Roepke said. “These new observation rooms are going to allow us to serve more adult students. That’s very exciting for our students. It’s extremely valuable for a stud to be able to practice.”
She said growing program enrollment at the Lompoc Valley Center is a priority this year, and noted that online registration for early childhood studies classes remains open through Friday.
Invited guests will be able to check out the Childcare Center addition during an open house Sept. 10.