The Interview: Yamila de Olivera

Over the course of 23 years, Yamila de Olivera has affected hundreds of young lives 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) started her teaching career midway through her undergraduate programs and never left. When preschool administrators saw her potential, they quickly gave her a classroom of her own where, both she and her students, are constantly growing.

What path led you to Las Vegas and UNLV?

I’m originally from Argentina. We moved to Los Angeles when I was around two years old, and then we moved here after the Northridge earthquake in 1994. We wanted to be close to California, and Vegas was the best option. I started working here as an undergraduate student studying elementary education and, 23 years later, I’m still here.

Why did you choose a career in teaching?

My mom was a teacher and, as a kid, 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.

You were an elementary education major; what made you stay in early childhood instead?

At the end of my bachelor’s program, I did my student teaching in a fifth-grade classroom and loved it. But, I loved my pre-K kids, too. I knew I wanted to pursue my master’s degree, and pursuing early education meant I’d be equipped to teach from pre-K up to middle school. So, I stayed at the preschool and ended up finishing my master’s in early childhood special education a few years later.

What’s kept you going for the past 23 years?

When I started, I saw that I would have opportunities to continuously grow here. Even though I’ve been in the same classroom for a long time, I am adding more to my curriculum and trying new things. I’ve also started taking on more educational administrative duties, such as helping to support the program by opening and closing the preschool when needed. I’ve learned a lot at conferences and share what I’ve learned when I’m training assistant teachers.

Speaking of classrooms, the preschool is about to have its own growth spurt, right?

I’ve seen our preschool grow from a six-classroom school that was super homey and intimate to the current space at the Lynn Bennett Early Childhood Education Center. It was a big jump at the time, but now we have a waitlist with 200+ children. We’re working to double the space, which will be 24 classrooms and lots more outdoor play space. I’m really excited about that.

Is that the most exciting component of the expansion for you?

Yes. We really believe in big body play – physical, outdoor play is just as important as indoor learning. When children get the appropriate amount and type of physical play, they are more focused for indoor learning and emotional self control. So we’re really excited to see playgrounds and explore more with nature and what’s around us. Then we can bring them into the classroom for more exploration of what they’re seeing outside.

Any big resolutions for the New Year?

My husband and I are planning to buy a house and, after a long period of renting, are really excited for that process. Beyond that, we’re really trying to progress ourselves – from where we are living to how we’re spending our time with each other, our seven-year-old daughter, friends, and extended family.

We heard you are quite the knitter.

Oh, I knit and crochet a lot. I love to make things for babies – a little stuffy, some clothes, blankets. Even though 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 to see people using the things I’ve made for them. When we were doing virtual learning during the pandemic, we had a “comfy and cozy” day, encouraging the kids to log in wearing their most comfortable outfits. Claire, our preschool director, popped into the call wearing just about everything I’ve ever made her – a jacket, cowl, hat, and more. It was great to feel so appreciated.

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