Dr. Jane Richardson Taylor never set out to be a preschool director.

After two decades as a middle- and high-school administrator, her career was well- established, but a decision to take a year off to spend more time with her high-school-aged daughter, Sara, put her on a different path. When her church, St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Leesburg, needed someone to lead its preschool program, Taylor was available.

Over the next 16 years, Taylor — to her surprise—discovered a passion for early childhood education. Her feelings are so strong that she has now committed $1 million to establish an early childhood development center at Longwood, which will open this year.

“When you work with little ones, it’s like you’ve gone to heaven. Every one of them is eager and excited about learning,” said Taylor ’71. “There is a critical need for well-educated early childhood teachers—I see it every day in my preschool. Children this age deserve someone who has been trained specifically in this area because their minds are such little sponges.”

The center will bear the name of her first child, a son who died when he was 13 months old. The Andy Taylor Center for Early Childhood Development is set to have its grand opening in fall 2017. It will be located at 211 Fourth Street in Farmville, just steps away from Longwood’s main campus.

‘When you work with little ones, it’s like you’ve gone to heaven. Every one of them is eager and excited about learning.’

For Dr. Sara Miller, the director and visionary behind the early childhood development center, the gift is galvanizing.

“Most people who start something like this aren’t bolstered from the beginning by a major financial gift that will support the program far into the future,” said Miller, assistant professor of education. “To have someone who believes so fully in our vision for this center to support us so completely gives us great energy and momentum as we move toward launch. Dr. Taylor is an inspiration to all of us who have worked on this project, and her interest and support will have a significant impact on generations of children.”

The Andy Taylor Center for Early Childhood Development will provide a cutting-edge early childhood education to children of Longwood faculty and staff as well as community members not affiliated with the university. The center will employ the Reggio Emilia method of instruction, which encourages children to explore their environment and express themselves in a variety of ways, including through art, drama, dance and sculpture.

The program is rooted in the principles of respect, responsibility and community. In the coming years, it also will become a valuable resource as a place where students in a developing early childhood education degree program can gain experience and conduct research.

The center is a key piece of Longwood’s Early Childhood Development Initiative, which in 2016 established free training sessions for regional child care providers to support the growing child care industry.

Miller also is working to develop a pilot program enabling child care providers who hold two-year associate’s degrees in early childhood development to enroll in Longwood’s program and emerge with bachelor’s degrees.

Taylor, the daughter of a U.S. Naval officer, spent much of her childhood and adolescence in Virginia Beach. Her older sister, Francine R. Woodward ’68, preceded her as a teacher. When it came time for Taylor to choose a college, there was really only one choice: Longwood.

“I wanted to become a teacher, and there was no college with a better reputation for future teachers than Longwood,” she said. "In my career, I've worked with a lot of teachers, and Longwood continues to train some of the best."

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