Two devoted early education teachers come together in one innovative classroom

Heather Anderson and Joe Chamberlain love their jobs.

“At what other job do you get to go play all day?” says Anderson. “I can’t imagine doing anything else!”

Chamberlain agrees. “I get to introduce little kids to life,” he says. “That is way more fulfilling that stocking shelves or selling things.”

The two teachers come from two different early education partners––Anderson from ESD 112’s Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Chamberlain from Evergreen Public Schools’ Early Childhood Special Education program––but they are united in their devotion to preschoolers and share one blended-model classroom at the Park Crest Early Learning Center.

The blended-model classroom is a pilot for ESD 112 and Evergreen Public Schools and combines both ECEAP preschool children and special education preschoolers in a part-time program with sessions in the morning and afternoon. Each session supports 18 kids ages 3-5 and is staffed with two teachers––Anderson and Chamberlain––along with two Evergreen paraeducators and one ECEAP aide.

“There’s no shortage of grownups in the room,” says Anderson.

Anderson and Chamberlain are both huge advocates of the blended-classroom model.

“The ECEAP kids act as peer models while also learning about compassion and patience,” says Anderson who came from ESD 112’s Hough Early Learning Center in the Vancouver School District before starting at Park Crest in September. “Kids who came in barely speaking at Hough left at the end of the year with lots of words.”

“Being with their peers is just a more natural way to learn,” says Chamberlain. “Even when adults can’t understand them, young children can often understand each other.”

“And never underestimate the power of positive peer pressure,” adds Anderson. “It works for eating too!”

Implementing a co-taught model can be complex for the program coordinators because of funding streams and staffing, and it can be challenging for the teachers in the classroom too.

“There’s definitely an adjustment period for students and teachers as we figure out how to create the best environment,” says Anderson.

Chamberlain explains, “Our students are very individual in their needs, and meshing that with the ECEAP standards takes flexibility and problem-solving.”

But neither of the teachers would have it any other way.

Before he started working for Evergreen Public Schools, Chamberlain spent three years serving children with special needs in Portland through community and home visits. “Home visits don’t always feel as effective as direct instruction,” he says. “With the blended model classroom, we’re getting the opportunity to connect peers and both model and teach social emotional skills, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

About Park Crest

The Park Crest Early Learning Center off Mill Plain in East Vancouver is ESD 112’s newest preschool and child care center. In partnership with Evergreen Public Schools, the center serves 91 children in a blended model that includes Early Head Start and child care for infants and toddlers and several preschool programs, including the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Early Childhood Special Education.

ESD 112 first piloted a blended-model early learning center with the Hough Early Learning Center that opened in partnership with Vancouver Public Schools in 2015. Park Crest is the first of its kind with Evergreen Public Schools.