GCC’s Early Learning Center Earns Five Year Accreditation

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The GCC community is celebrating the five-year accreditation of the Early Learning Center (ELC). In seven out of 10 accreditation standards, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) gave the ELC a score of 100 plus, the highest possible rating. On the other three standards, the center scored in the 90s, a remarkable review from a national accrediting board known for its rigor, according to GCC officials.

“I was thrilled to get the news,” said Center Director Marjorie Weiner.

GCC President Dorsey L. Kendrick concurred. “This is a wonderful accomplishment, and I thank everyone for their hard work and dedication.”

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 opened in 1983 through the concerted effort of Dr. Earnestine Kirkland and Susan Logston. Six students started the program. The next year there were 60 and that continues today, with 20 students in a classroom, a staff of six full-time and six part-time teachers. The 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 and the GCC community.  

“It really does take a village,” Weiner said. “Our central goal is to have positive child and family outcomes and that involves everyone.”

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. She said faculty and staff from other Gateway departments are always eager to help. Not long ago, a Humanities professor taught yoga to the children.

“At Gateway people are always asking `What can we do for the children? What do they need?’” said Center Secretary Mary Palermo. “I think everyone feels a connection to the children here and I think they understand the kind of learning that takes place here.”

More than 300 GCC students become part of the ELC each year, in work study roles, as student teachers and as teachers’ assistants. They may work with students on one particular lesson or observe learning from the observation room adjacent to the classrooms. Many go on to work with children after graduation, Weiner said.  

The ELC is open to all children ages three to five who live in the Greater New Haven area and 45 of the 60 openings are offered on a sliding scale, funded by a School Readiness grant. The center offers early intervention programs and assists families when they are struggling as was the case for some families during Superstorm Sandy.  These are coveted spots as parents continue to seek high quality early childhood education. The demand for high quality early childhood education in New Haven was illustrated in a recent article in The New Haven Independent and reprinted nationally in The Huffington Post. The article highlighted the ELC.

The ELC center is located on the first floor of Gateway’s South building and the new campus means a whole new learning environment. “It’s just beautiful; we are so happy with it,” Weiner said. The furniture is bleached oak; the classrooms are spacious and abundant natural light filters in through the large windows. On a recent afternoon, the center was hushed and the blinds drawn as it was naptime. The song “Kumbaya” played softly in the background as the children slept. In the hallway, photographs of children and of landmarks in the community – the New Haven Green, City Hall, GCC and Claire’s Corner Copia grace the walls.

Weiner said she was particularly proud of the score of 100 plus in the area of student assessment as it represented a seven-year journey, as they learned how to use the Connecticut Performance Standards as they applied to each child. The score increased considerably from their last accreditation and she attributes that to professional development, continuous discussion and collaboration on the part of the teachers and staff.

Already, the ELC is focusing on two areas of improvement. First, they will expand the science curriculum to take advantage of their new setting. With expansive windows, students and teachers can now make and record weather observations and in warmer months, plant, grow and cook vegetables. An even greater focus, said Weiner, will be on building upon relationships between students and teachers, teachers and staff and family.

“Children learn best when they have positive relationships with their teachers and teachers with the families and children with their peers,” she said. “We try to learn about the child in the context of that child’s family and living situation and that child’s culture.”

Another way the ELC is reaching out is through a Male Involvement Program run by Josh Berrios, a GCC alum. The program offers support to fathers and father figures. He has hung up photos of students with their fathers, grandfathers and uncles and he created a lending library that centers on fathers. 

“We have fathers who are doctors and fathers who didn’t experience success in school and who are perhaps a bit reluctant to get involved, or didn’t have role models when it came to school,” Weiner said. “We want everyone to know they have a place here and that every child benefits from having parents involved and having a larger community that supports them as well.”