By Emily Leclerc, Waisman Science Writer
Nancy Saevang was recently selected as the new director of Waisman’s Early Childhood Program (WECP). Most recently, Saevang served as the WECP’s associate director and interim director.
The WECP is an inclusive early childhood program that provides care and early childhood learning to kids all across the developmental spectrum from ages one to five. It is a model university program which specializes in supporting children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) alongside typically developing peers. The WECP, which opened in 1979, reserves up to a third of its enrollment for children with IDDs. The WECP has a speech-language pathologist (Allison Ackerman, MS, CCC-SLP) and an occupational therapist (Jaclyn Bender, MS OTR/L) on staff to provide therapy services to children who need these supports.
Saevang has ten years of experience working in the WECP. During her undergraduate training, she interned in the program and was hired as a student employee. After graduating from UW-Madison with a bachelor’s in human development and family studies in 2013, Saevang was hired as an assistant teacher. She has been with the program ever since. “My passion lies heavily with the inclusive model and supporting children with varying disabilities as well as children who are typically developing. It was exciting to be able to work with children of different backgrounds, different needs, and being able to utilize different tools to meet them where they are developmentally,” Saevang says. “I wanted the full experience of working with an array of developmental backgrounds and I continue to feel that the WECP was the only place that could really offer that experience to me. I knew the work would be challenging but, at the end of the day, proves itself to be deeply rewarding.”
The WECP has a long-standing reputation for unparalleled care and support of the children in the program due to its dedicated and highly experienced staff. WECP teachers all have backgrounds in child development or specialized training in the best ways to support children with disabilities. This ensures that all children in the program receive an inclusive and enriching education. The WECP’s curriculums are intentionally designed to be inclusive and supportive of all of the kids in the classrooms. The program is additionally accompanied by the Discovery Garden, a fully-accessible, 1.5-acre, outdoor learning and play space.
Saevang is committed to not only providing the best services to the children and families that pass through the program but also to the staff who work there. The pandemic heavily impacted the WECP and has left the program with similar staffing issues to those being experienced nationwide. To help alleviate this, Saevang will make it a priority to support the teachers and staff so they can be their best and in turn provide the best for the kids and families in the program. An important goal for Saevang is to ensure all of the teachers and staff feel seen, heard, and are provided with the resources needed to keep them healthy and happy.
Saevang is thrilled to be given the opportunity to lead the WECP and is excited to help the program grow as it moves into the future. “The WECP offers a more interpersonal experience for our children with disabilities and their families. Here they are immersed in an environment in which they are loved, nurtured, and cared for with all of the flexibility to meet their developmental needs,” Saevang says. “There will be challenges to come but I will keep my head held high through it all. I will make sure to carry myself with my heart, my kindness, and my love and care for the WECP staff and our children and families.”
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