Gateway’s Early Learning Center is Downtown’s Best Kept Secret

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, Executive Director of Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood (OEC), Tours Facility and Praises Programs

The children enrolled at Gateway Community College’s state-of-the-art Early Learning Center (ELC) are learning much more than just their ABCs. They’re reaping the cognitive benefits of increased family involvement, exposure to local culture, and a heightened emphasis on early literacy.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), meaningful family engagement in children’s early learning supports school readiness and later academic success. That’s no secret to ELC Director Marge Weiner.

“We encourage a great deal of family involvement because we know that children do not come to us isolated,” Weiner said. “We provide resources to assist families with housing, employment, healthcare and when time comes for the children to age out of the program, we are also there to assist in the transition to public school.”

The center’s Male Involvement Program bolsters its familial component. The program, started by Gateway alumnus and ELC teacher Josh Berrios, was created to engage fathers and other male relatives in the lives of children. Berrios works closely with fathers, encouraging them to play active roles in the lives of their children.

Inside the center, a great shelf of books runs the length of the wall. The shelf is a daily reminder that reading is integral to the center’s Early Literacy program. The books, which are part of the Family Lending library, can be checked out through the center and are chosen for their quality and the variety of cultures and ethnicities they represent.

“We want the children to be exposed to culturally diverse stories with characters they can relate to,” Weiner said. Students also take part in a “Little Read” with their families.

With New Haven just outside of the center’s doors, there are limitless opportunities for the children to experience the rich cultural offerings of a major city. The center coordinates several outings for students and parents such as field trips to the Yale British Art Gallery, Ansonia Nature Center and the Beardsley Zoo.

Students also take trips to the local farmer’s market, which provides a fun, teachable moment about good eating habits.

“Teaching the students about nutrition is very important to us,” Weiner said. “We have a full service kitchen where the children do cooking projects that incorporate literacy, math, science and cooperative skills. Research supports the link between nutrition, physical activity and children's ability to learn.”

Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, executive director of OEC, Dr. Horris Haynes, former parent and author of books on literacy, and ELC Director Marge Weiner tour the ELC facility.

The center’s facilities and programs are highly regarded state-wide, so much so that Dr. Myra Jones-Taylor, executive director of Connecticut’s new Office of Early Childhood (OEC), recently toured the facilities and praised their effectiveness.

The Early Learning Center is based upon the concept that each child is an individual and should be able to develop at his or her own pace. This is reflected in the principles of UBUNTU, which is seen in big colorful letters on the bulletin board along with the school code of ethics. It is a Nguni Bantu word, which is roughly translated to mean human kindness. The philosophy includes qualities of compassion and human virtues.

“UBUNTU means ‘I am not all I can be unless you are all you can be’,” Weiner said.

The center is a fully licensed, nationally NAEYC-accredited lab school for young children age 3-5 years. The ELC’s primary objective is to provide an exemplary training site for preschool teachers and quality childcare for the community. A truly unique institution, the Center has settled into its new home in downtown New Haven and boasts state-of-the-art facilities including a fully operational kitchen and observation room.

All teachers at ELC have a minimum of a B.A. in Early Childhood Education. Teachers are also First Aid and CPR certified.
The ECL is now accepting applications for Fall 2014. Weekly fees are $225 for Community members and $150 for students. Tuition includes breakfast, lunch and snack. New Haven residents can apply for a School Readiness slot to pay on a sliding fee scale. Additional information
 can be found online at the ELC and by calling (203) 285-2130.