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New Mexico State University instructor returns from study tour in Italy

Glenda McShannon, an instructor in New Mexico State University's curriculum and instruction department, recently returned from a trip to Italy where she studied "the best schools in the world." She said she plans to apply what she learned to the university's lab school.

Glenda McShannon, an instructor with New Mexico State University's curriculum and instruction department, plans to apply what she learned from "the best schools in the world" to the university's lab school. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

There are 41 schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy -- 18 infant-toddler schools and 23 pre-schools. The schools are funded by the city and each school has a management council that anyone in the community can join. There is no limit to the number of members each council can have, McShannon said.

The schools' shared philosophy is based on the belief that children are competent, rich in potential and come to school ready to learn, she said. The schools are built on relationships and communication between teachers, students, parents and the entire community.

The schools have two teachers in each classroom and consider the environment to be the third teacher. Classrooms also have educational activities students can do without a teacher present, McShannon said.

Reggio Emilia students are taught in groups of three or four using a project approach. Teachers find what interests a group and the topic is studied in depth. This is different from the theme approach used in most U.S. schools, where all students study the same subject for a short period of time and move on to another topic, said McShannon.

The schools of Reggio Emilia have been using their approach for 40 years. The reason they have been called "the best schools in the world" is that they have taken all of the pieces of early childhood education and made them work for their own children, McShannon said.

"Reggio Emilia doesn't advocate using their approach. They advocate thinking about and finding what works best for each school and its children," she said.

McShannon plans to find what works best for the New Mexico State lab school and has already implemented some changes since her return in early March. Teachers now work with smaller groups of children and a few changes have been made to the environment. Other changes will follow in the hope that children will focus and think more in their work and play.

McShannon said she also got ideas for new ways to use classroom materials.

"We weren't using the equipment to its full potential," McShannon said. "We have to change the way we're thinking and using our materials."

The lab school teaches 21 children from 3 to 5 years old and serves as a place to teach college students how to work with young children.

McShannon said the people of Reggio Emilia feel as if they have a stake in their schools and view them as their pride and joy.

"I think it would be wonderful to see the people of Las Cruces take pride in our lab school and think of it as their own," she said.

McShannon's trip was part of an award she received as the 2002 National Head Start Teacher of the Year. She was part of a group of 175 English-speaking teachers who went on the study tour.

For more information on the lab school, contact McShannon at (505) 646-3206.