Recently I told the story of our earliest thoughts about launching a preschool. Today I want to tell you some of the values that have guided us as we have researched and made plans to launch the Early Learning Center for our community this fall: Leadership - We were absolutely convinced the success of the Early Learning Center would be dependent on a great leader. Last June, a full 13-months before the opening day, we hired Chris Whitmire to run point on launching and leading our preschool program. Not just a gifted leader, Chris has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education. She is a life-long learner, and is currently pursuing licensing to be a school principal. She has more than two decades of experience in education, has a huge heart for children, and desires to help them take steps in their faith journey.
Quality - In our early planning, we received a report from called "Early Childhood Education and Care" (ECEC) which was a needs assessment for kids 0 to 5 years in our county (St. Joseph). The report said, "Several long-term studies show that, when children attend higher quality child care centers, they perform better on measures of cognitive and social skills in child care and on into their school years." And yet the ECEC report found few such centers in our county.
In our research, we found some centers offering great education and care in our area--and we have spent much time studying them, asking questions, and making decisions about our program based on their success. We found the directors of those centers very welcoming. They were excited about the potential of another quality outlet for children. In fact, one of them wrote in response to a news article about Granger's ELC: "We work together to make sure that ALL children are taken care of in the best way possible. We are no longer competitors. There are plenty of children that need quality care..."
Because of our commitment to quality education, we have chosen the HighScope Approach to early childhood education. This is a proven curriculum with a long track record used by high quality centers all around the country.
Faculty - The ECEC report also stated: "More than half of the child care centers who responded to the survey have no teachers with BA degrees." They also discovered that "early childhood teachers work for poverty wages." It just goes to show the heart of the teachers who work with our young children. They don't do it for money! Quality staff has always been a priority at GCC, and it will continue to be so as we hire the faculty to lead our children. They will not get rich, but it is our intention to attract highly qualified teachers in our region, and pay them appropriately well for their service.
Credibility - The State of Indiana makes it real easy to start a preschool. A church can be a "registered ministry" and not have to adhere to all the regulations that a "licensed center" is required to follow. But the difference is clear. From the ECEC report: "The upsurge in unlicensed programs is a concern since, according to a recent Purdue study, children in licensed child care settings in St. Joseph County received higher quality care than children in unlicensed settings." So we are raising the bar for our program, spending thousands of dollars on building renovations, and establishing our safety and health guidelines according to the State's requirements.
Beyond licensing, there is accreditation. A small percentage of centers in St. Joseph County have received accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It will take a couple years to obtain this and a significant amount of money and focus, but we have already started taking steps towards receiving NAEYC accreditation.
Faith - From the beginning, it's been our intention that the Early Learning Center is strongly faith-based. It will not operate as a business inside the walls of the church--it will actually be a part of the church, an extension of our outreach to the families of Michiana. We will utilize the HighScope curriculum, and infuse it with a Biblical narrative taught by teachers who have been trained in the discipleship and nurturing of children.
Cost - We knew that the values I've mentioned would have an impact on the cost of tuition. Even though our facility costs are lower than some--we knew the price of having great leadership, teachers, and curriculum, along with the costs associated with licensing and accreditation--wouldn't come cheap. Even so, we were so grateful to have been able to set our prices at (or just below) the cost of other Centers that we are hoping to emulate. Additionally, we created a scholarship fund that we hope will receive enough donations to make it easier for families to enroll their little ones.
This list isn't exhaustive. You'll learn much more about the values of the Early Learning Center on the website. But it hopefully gives you a bit of the background of what is driving the philosophy of this new Center that is going to have an impact on our region for decades to come.