Alum in Action: Giving Local Children & Families a ‘Head Start’

Michael Tomas Mitchell (‘11 M.Ed. Early Childhood Education) is the Executive Director of Acelero Learning Clark County. Acelero Learning provides early childhood education and family engagement services to approximately 1500 Head Start children here in Clark County. Head Start is a Federal program that promotes school readiness for children (aged 0-5) from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development in areas including language and literacy, for example.


Mr. Mitchell obtained a B.S. in Sociology from Brigham Young University before joining Teach for America, where he was assigned to his first choice city: Las Vegas. While here, he entered the College of Education’s Alternate Route to Licensure program, completing an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education in 2011. He attributes much of his current success to the professors within the College, recalling how they showed him how to be a teacher and leader, how they provided ongoing learning and support in his current role, and how they approached his ARL cohort as, first and foremost, professionals, a distinction he carries into his own approach to adult learning. He also taught courses within the College of Education, which has led to hiring some of his former students for Acelero, perpetuating the College’s impact on the community in meaningful ways.

In his position as Executive Director, Mr. Mitchell is responsible for providing the twelve schools and nearly 300 employees under his supervision with direction and leadership in pursuit of Head Start’s mission of closing the achievement gap and building a better future for children, families, and communities. Acelero’s program has proven successful for many enrolled—Students tested after two years in Acelero programs reach gains that are nearly double average national growth, and are among the largest-known recorded gains for a Head Start program.

Though much of his focus is on student growth and achievement, Michael’s goals and Acelero Learning’s comprehensive nature goes far beyond a focus on child outcomes alone. As such, Mr. Mitchell’s responsibilities also include is also effectively distributing resources at his disposal to where they are most needed, such as getting food to families across Clark County through partnership with Three Square. Acelero also works with families to provide wraparound support out-of-classroom issues, including strategies that assist with student advocacy, finding employment or financial support, and help obtaining a GED or learning English.

Michael is motivated by his own experiences as a young learner without access to sufficient educational resources, as well as by clear research which indicates that access to high quality education is among the top indicators of upward socioeconomic mobility. He is the proud son of a former Head Start student, herself the child of first generation immigrants. Mr. Mitchell recognizes the impact that Head Start had on his family and on his own success. He notes that in some ways he is similar to a doctor—Once he has seen a patient, he hopes not to see them again, as that means they are healthy and thriving. As more students and more generations are impacted Acelero Learning, Michael hopes the need for such programs will fade into memory, allowing him to turn his attention to the next area in which he can make his mark in education.

Developing Leaders Who Transform School Communities

Along with the challenges that accompany keeping a school functioning day-to-day, school principals and administrators must also be equipped to tackle the many issues they’ll face in PK-12 schools in the 21st century—such as combating poor attendance or test scores, effectively educating English language learners, or addressing behavioral problems.

The Educational Policy and Leadership (EPL) program is designed to develop educational leaders who understand the urban environment and the community in which schools exist. Program participants receive a firm foundation of knowledge and skills needed to meet the demands and expectations of school administrators—all within a systems approach for transforming schools within an urban community. In addition, program curriculum is based on the Nevada Educator Performance Framework and Standards for School Administrators. Thus, program participants learn content and develop skills that are expected of their performance as entry-level administrators.

“The talent coming from this program is exceptional,” Dr. Mike Barton, Clark County School District’s (CCSD) chief academic officer said. “I see first-hand that these candidates are well prepared—they think differently, they know how to tackle complex problems facing schools and education, and they keep an instructional leadership focus as they get into their new roles.”

Crucial to this program is the opportunity to put theory into practice with hands-on field experiences within operational schools. During their 36 semester hours of coursework, EPL students are embedded in local schools, where they work with mentor principals to research issues that occur within their school. After cataloguing existing resources available to combat the issue, students then create and implement programs to spur improvements. And the results? They often have impacts that reach far beyond an individual school. As of October 2017, EPL program students and graduates have created 54 school-based intervention projects that impact anywhere from nine to 640 students at each school.

Enrolled students also have the opportunity to learn from and build a network of connections with current, high ranking administrators and employees at the CCSD and other Nevada agencies. The partnership element between UNLV, CCSD, and the Las Vegas community is a key element to the success of the EPL program. Cory Garr, a secondary education teacher in CCSD and EPL student explains that the leaders he’s taken classes from will be the people he calls on when he has questions in his future role as a dean of students. “It’s an incredible opportunity to learn from the administrators who know CCSD inside and out… But what’s really valuable is that when they see me in meetings or around town, they know me by name now,” Garr said.

Welcoming its third cohort of students in January 2017, the Educational Policy and Leadership program continues to grow, simultaneously creating opportunities for graduates while filling much-needed vacancies in administrative roles across the Clark County School District and the state.

For more information on the EPL program, or to apply, visit
education.unlv.edu/masters.

In Light of the Tragic Events of October 1: A Message from the UNLV College of Education

We are deeply saddened by last night’s events on the Las Vegas Strip. Our thoughts are with all of the victims, their families, and all those affected by this unthinkable tragedy.

Resiliency comes from coming together and building connection. Know that you are not alone at this time, and there are people and resources available to help you. In addition to University-wide efforts, the College of Education has mobilized experienced and in-training counselors to support those in connection to last night’s incident, including our students, faculty, and Las Vegas community:

Counseling Services & Student Support

  • The Education Student Services Center (ESSC) will be open for students from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to provide a safe space for students seeking solace. In-training and practicing counselors will be available to provide support for those in need.
    Location: Carlson Education Building (CEB), Room 118
    Phone: 702-895-1537 
  • The PRACTICE, an on-campus mental health clinic located within the College of Education, is offering drop-in crisis counseling to those in immediate need at no cost.
    Location: Carlson Education Building (CEB), Room 226
    Phone: 702-895-1530
  • Drop-in counseling is available until 6 p.m. in the Health Education Room at the UNLV Student Wellness Center.

Missing Person Reports
For families looking to locate loved ones, call 1-866-535-5654.

To our partner organizations and community: Should your agency need assistance in regards to counselors or counseling/coping resources, please contact the College of Education Dean’s Office at 702-895-3375—we are happy to assist in providing the services and assistance you require.

Online Resources for Coping with Trauma
On behalf of the Assistant Director of Clinical Services and Research at The PRACTICE, Noelle Lefforge, we have compiled a list of resources that can be of use:

Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting

Many parents are struggling to help their kids through these events and may be wondering what to do. Here are helpful resources: