Less than a year after ground was broken on Fowler Early Childhood Learning Center, construction of the $2.1 million facility is complete.

A joint project between Enid Public Schools and Northwestern Oklahoma State University, the center is equipped to educate both pre-K children and college students.

The first-ever semester of classes at the center kicked off Monday, with the first student led through the front door by the center’s namesake, Willa Jo Fowler.

“I wish you could’ve seen the faces of all the children as they came in and saw their new school for the first time. They were all so wide-eyed,” she said.

Besides her more than 40 years on the EPS Board of Education, Fowler has spent decades teaching and advocating for education, particularly for young children.

“I have taught from 3-year-olds to post-graduate college students, but early childhood was my real passion,” she said. “It’s a time of intense learning … they really need to be in the right environment and the right atmosphere.”

The new facility provides exactly that. It’s the first standalone building in the district made for pre-K students, she said, and everything inside is designed with them in mind.

Constructed on NWOSU-Enid land right beside the main campus, but paid for by EPS’ 2016 bond funding, it initially was known as the NWOSU-EPS Early Childhood Education Center.

Fellow Enid school board members surprised Fowler earlier this year by voting in favor of a name change in her honor. She’s more than happy to have her name attached to it, she said.

“I know they will enjoy that building for many, many more years, and I wish that all 4-year-olds could have a facility that nice.”

While pre-K kids may have been the primary consideration, they weren’t the only. Observation rooms were installed to allow Northwestern education and psychology majors to watch and learn when they’re not interacting face to face in the classrooms.

“It’s designed not only for the little kids and the best learning environment for them … but there’s opportunities for student teachers, as well as other majors, to go in and be unobtrusive but observe the classroom and activities with the kids,” NWOSU-Enid dean Wayne McMillin said.

Northwestern has provided an on-site pre-K program since 2015. The Fowler Center is, in many ways, just improving and expanding upon an already existing partnership between NWOSU and EPS.

University students haven’t had much chance to interact or observe the kids in the new environment, but for some, excitement over the new facility has been building since construction began.

“They’ve heard about it, they’ve seen it develop over the last year, and they have had a lot of questions about what’s going up there and how it can be used,” McMillin said. “It’s been a long time in the making and it’s exciting to know we’ve finally reached our goal. It’s going to be a great symbol of partnership between Enid Public Schools and the university.”

Story provided by Enid News & Eagle

Written by: Mitchell Willetts