Over the course of 23 years, Yamila de Oliveria has impacted the lives of hundreds of young people as an educator at the UNLV/CSUN preschool at the Lynn Bennett Early Childhood Education Center.
De Oliveria (’04 BS Elementary Education, ’06 M.Ed. Special Education) began her teaching career midway through her undergraduate studies and never left. When the preschool administration saw her potential, they quickly gave her her own classroom where both she and her students continued to grow.
Which path led you to Las Vegas and UNLV?
I am originally from Argentina. When I was about two years old, we moved to Los Angeles, and after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, we moved here. We wanted to be close to California and Vegas was the best option. I started working here as an elementary school student and I’m still here 23 years later.
Why did you choose the teaching profession?
My mother was a teacher and as a child I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I babysat a lot for my siblings and neighbors and I really enjoyed doing fun activities with the kids.
They were elementary school teachers; What made you decide to stay in early childhood instead?
At the end of my bachelor’s degree, I did my student classes in a fifth grade classroom and loved it. But I also loved my Pre-K kids. I knew I wanted to pursue my master’s degree, and pursuing early education meant I would be able to teach from preschool through middle school. So I stayed in preschool and a few years later went on to get my masters in special education for young children.
What has driven you over the past 23 years?
When I started, I saw that I had opportunities to continuously develop myself here. Even though I’ve been in the same classroom for a long time, I’m adding more to my curriculum and trying new things. I have also started to take on more educational administrative responsibilities such as helping to support the program by opening and closing the preschool as needed. I’ve learned a lot at conferences and share what I’ve learned as I train Assistant Teachers.
Speaking of the classroom, preschool is about to have its own growth spurt, right?
I’ve watched our preschool grow from a six classroom school that was super cozy and intimate to the current spaces at the Lynn Bennett Early Childhood Education Center. It was a big leap back then, but now we have a waiting list of over 200 children. We are working on doubling the area, ie 24 classrooms and a lot more outdoor play space. I am really looking forward to this.
Is that the most exciting part of the expansion for you?
Yes. We truly believe in Big Body Play – physical play outdoors is just as important as learning indoors. When children are given the appropriate amount and type of physical play, they become more focused on indoor learning and emotional self-control. So we are really looking forward to seeing playgrounds and exploring more with nature and what surrounds us. Then we can bring them into the classroom to learn more about what they see outside.
Big resolutions for the new year?
My husband and I are planning to buy a house and are very excited about the process after a long rental period. Beyond that, we’re really trying to evolve – from where we live to our time together, our seven-year-old daughter, friends and extended family.
We hear you’re quite the knitter.
Oh, I knit and crochet a lot. I love making things for babies – a bit stuffy, some clothes, blankets. Although the babies are too young to appreciate the work that goes into each project, I know their parents love having something homemade just for them. I love seeing people use the things I made for them. Learning virtually during the pandemic, we had a “comfy and cozy” day and encouraged kids to sign up in their most comfortable outfits. Claire, our preschool principal, came to the call wearing just about everything I’ve ever made her – a jacket, hood, hat and more. It was great to feel so appreciated.