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The Little Lions Child Development Center will welcome children from birth to 3 years in August,

News | Health Education and Human SciencesMarch 21, 2023

New Director of Child Development Center Passionate about Early Education

Annette Lauver had a resume full of things that made her perfect for her new role as director of the Little Lions Child Development Center at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

“We chose Annette because of her passion for the importance of high-quality early childhood education,” said Dr. Shelli Henehan, professor, assessment coordinator and director of Early Childhood Education. “The fact that she also has a wealth of experience in teaching, special education, and then early childhood education is a bonus!”

Education runs deep in Lauver’s life. Her mother spent 54 years as a public school teacher; her oldest daughter teaches elementary music education at Putnam City Schools outside Oklahoma City; and her third daughter is a STEM educator who also teaches gifted students at Putnam City Schools. Her second daughter and her husband are NICU nurses, the former at Mercy, the latter at Baptist. Rounding out the family, Lauver’s son is a youth pastor in Houston, and her husband (whom she describes as bi-vocational) is pastor of the River Valley Church of the Nazarene.

So when Lauver says her family loves children and loves to serve, it is easy to believe her.

Lauver grew up in Florida and studied education at Florida State University. When she graduated, she moved to Montana, where her sister lived. She met her husband there. Their journey in ministry took the couple to Florida, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Then in 2016, the Lauvers’ first grandchild was born, and like so many grandmothers before, Annette Lauver adjusted her life.

“I decided to really turn my focus to early childhood,” Lauver said. Soon, she opened Sunshine Christian Academy at River Valley Church of the Nazarene.

While directing the preschool for children 3-5 years old, Lauver cared for her mother. When her mom passed in December, Lauver was glad to see that UAFS was looking for someone to direct its new child development center.

In many ways, it seems inevitable that Lauver would fill the position.

In addition to teaching and developing a preschool, Lauver had other experiences that would help her in her new role.

“I was a working mom. I raised my four children and worked the whole time,” she said. So she knows how important it is for young mothers to have a support network.

As a parent who survived having four children in college at the same time, she understands “how challenging it can be for university students,” She is proud to see UAFS bringing an early childhood center to campus.

“I want to work with young educators,” she said. “It’s intriguing that students, staff, and faculty are all involved. It will be a different kind of preschool than anything else offered in the area.”

Lauver also looks forward to continuing her education and plans to enroll in the master of education program at UAFS, thanks to tuition aid for employees and some money her mother set aside for her education.

“This really is a dream come true for me,” she said.

Equipping the Center

This spring is a critical time for the new center.

“We are going to have an amazing setup in literacy, science, math, and art,” she said. “I am purchasing high-quality items with our grant funds – everything needed to be an outstanding program. … This (center) will be made for children to learn through play.”

The center is also ready to start hiring staff. With job descriptions in hand, Lauver is looking for lead teachers in the 3-year-old preschool classroom, toddler room, and infant room. Ultimately the center will have six full-time employees and several part-time workers. She plans to hire students as floaters in the morning and afternoon.

The development center, which will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., will provide lunch and two snacks per day, and the kitchen is under development.

Lauver is grateful to Ronnette Haynes, instructor, and coaching coordinator for early childhood and preschool, for working hard to get the project to its current state.

“It almost seems unfair that I come in at this point and do the fun work of designing learning and playing spaces inside the center and outside,” Lauver said.

The center will serve 42 children: eight infants, 14 toddlers, and 20 pre-kindergarten 3 year olds. A waiting list is open to students now.

Henehan described the Little Lions Child Development Center’s role in the university’s mission, adding that students in many programs will have learning opportunities at the center.

“We will make it possible for parents to return to school and be successful while being assured that their children are cared for in a developmentally appropriate space by highly-trained early childhood educators. Even better, as a lab school, the LLCDC will provide on-site workforce training for our future early childhood educators, dental hygienists, nurses, and social workers!” Henehan said.

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  • Early Childhood Education