Downtown New Haven and the GCC’s Early Learning Center – Making Vibrant Connections

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Each day, the pre-school students enrolled in Gateway's Early Learning Center walk past—and often pause for a look at—the photographs that line the walls of their school. The images are of The Yale Art Gallery, the U.S. Post Office, Consulado General de Ecuador en New Haven, Claire’s Corner Copia, Marketa and the Temple Medical Center. Each is an important landmark that makes up the the vibrant world of downtown New Haven, the world just outside the door.

With GCC and the ELC now located at 20 Church Street, Center Director Marjorie Weiner said she only expects those connections to deepen and grow. The ELC is currently enrolling students for the fall and Weiner encourages parents who work and live in downtown New Haven to explore the center.  

“So many people with pre-school aged children work downtown and live downtown and we want them to know that we are here with an extremely high quality education for their children,” Weiner said. “We want the children to know about their community. There is such an opportunity for learning.”

Such was the case recently when Faraji Dial-Johnson, age 3, an ELC student, and her mother, Tulani Dial, a Gateway nursing student, were downtown and they stopped at Claire’s Corner Copia. Faraji grew animated and said that she knew the place because she saw a photograph of the front window and logo at her school. She and her mother went inside and Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s as well as chef and cookbook author at the landmark vegetarian restaurant, was immediately swept up in the Faraji’s enthusiasm.

“She had no idea what we did or what we made and so I showed her everything and she was so excited. I mean 'Disney World' excited. People are often excited here but that’s usually when they are on the other end of a piece of carrot cake,” Criscuolo said.   

Faraji sampled the food, declared it delicious, and left with a Claire’s mug, which she immediately showed her classmates the next morning. “A lot of nice moments happen here because, I think, we have been such a part of the community for so long. This was a beautiful moment,” Criscuolo said.

Criscuolo and Weiner both said they are energized by the prospects of having Gateway and the ELC downtown because of the chance to connect new generations of students to all that New Haven has to offer. Weiner looks forward to many collaborations with and connections to the city’s cultural, educational, culinary and other landmarks. 

Dial, who studies Nursing at GCC while working two jobs at the college (serving on student government and as president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society), agrees. “[My daughter] was so excited to feel part of the community; to go to the restaurant, to meet Claire. It represented so much.”   

Late last fall, the ELC was awarded a five-year accreditation. In seven out of 10 accreditation standards, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) gave the Early Learning Center a score of 100 plus, the highest possible rating. On the other three standards, the center scored in the 90’s, a remarkable review from a national accrediting board known for its rigor.

The center is a fully-licensed childcare program which also serves as the laboratory school for Gateway students earning their degrees in Early Childhood Education. The staff provides a stimulating learning environment through three curriculum models:  Child Development, a program that focuses on the development of the whole child; Modified Montessori, based on the theory that sensory-cognitive learning influences effective development and Diversified Creative Curriculum which uses 10 learning centers with an emphasis on early literacy.

The ELC has 60 students, with 20 students in each classroom and a staff of six full-time teachers all with a minimum of Bachelor's Degrees, six part-time teachers and GCC’s Early Childhood Education students who assist the teachers. Forty-five of the 60 openings are offered on a sliding scale, funded by a School Readiness grant. The overarching goal: preparing students so they are ready to learn when they get to kindergarten.

The stellar review comes, Weiner said, because of the engagement of the children and their families, because of the dedicated, innovative and collaborative work of the center’s teachers and staff and because of the abiding connection between the center, the GCC community and now, the downtown New Haven community. 

“It really does take a village,” Weiner said. The “village” she said begins with GCC President Dr. Dorsey L. Kendrick, who has “been so very supportive of us,” and spreads outward to the departments of Early Childhood Education, Psychology, Human Services and Nursing, whose students use the center as a learning lab and whose faculty and staff also share their expertise and resources whenever they are needed.

“Our central goal is to have positive child and family outcomes and that involves everyone,” Weiner said.

For more information about the ELC call 203-285-2131 or visit their website.