A shiny, brand-new $14 million state-of-the-art building now rises up from the ruins resulting from a tornado that ripped apart the area. Financed by a $9 million contribution from an anonymous donor, it is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods; the impressive structure stands out against the typical architecture surrounding it. What is this new mystery building, and what is it doing in Springfield? The answer is Educare.
According to their website, Educare is “an early childhood education program for low-income families and children that provides quality early education for children from birth to age five. It uses research-based, high quality practices to help children develop the academic and social skills needed for life, and focuses on the core values of strong leadership and community linkages.” Educare Springfield is the first program in Massachusetts, and only one of two in all of New England (the other being located in Maine.)
The Educare Springfield program sits on Springfield College land in the Old Hill neighborhood across from Brookings Elementary School. Springfield College is already largely involved in this program, and it has yet to officially open.
Linda Davis-Delano, Director of Educator Preparation at Springfield College, said, “We have a fairly large group of faculty and staff who are part of this partnership and we’ve met four times since last January… where we’ve been discussing different ideas for programming and the ways that Springfield College students might be involved.”
President Mary-Beth Cooper sits on the board for Educare Springfield to ensure the campus will have direct involvement with the program. Since the school is still a little over a month away from opening, the role of Springfield students is not completely determined yet; however, Davis-Delano assures there is much talk about what students will be able to get out of Educare. She stated, “…everyone that is involved, we have an art professor, professor from the Physician’s Assistant program, Exercise Science, and Athletic Training. We have people who aren’t faculty who are also part of this. It’s all of the college, it’s not just the Education Department at all.” There will be many opportunities for students of a wide variety of majors to benefit from the program in terms of research, experience, and practice.
The benefits of the program for both family and children are proven. Educare reports that through the Educare Randomized Control Trial, it was determined children who enter Educare at younger ages have higher levels of receptive vocabulary, as well as record higher ratings of social-emotional skills. These results speak for themselves to prove Educare is impacting the lives of children and helping them be prepared to succeed in life.
Educare also partners with state advocacy to pass legislation related to young children and families. It involves federal, state, and local policymakers so they can see the benefits of the program. Senator Angus King attended Educare Central Maine to see what it was really like. He is helping to reintroduce the Pace Act, a bipartisan legislation that would update the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
The Holyoke-Chicopee-Springfield Head Start program works with and operates the Educare here in Springfield. Head Start is a federally funded early education program that works with schools and children to get them the education they need. “One of the things that we’ve done already is that our faculty were fortunate enough to be able to deliver some professional development to some of the Head Start staff so we’ve already had these faculty present to all the staff of Head Start,” Davis-Delano explained. Through working with HCS Head Start, Educare will be developed into an effective and beneficial resource that will go towards helping families and children that need it.
Educare Springfield is set to open in January 2020. There will be seven early Head Start classrooms and five regular Head Start classrooms. 85 children of infant age will be attending, along with 56 children of preschool age. Everyone involved in this is very excited for the opening. Davis-Delano said, “It’s a community based model, so we’re hoping it will help us increase our community involvement by being involved with families that have children at Educare Springfield.” With plans to incorporate not only the Education Department at Springfield College but also students of Occupational Therapy, Physician’s Assistant, Exercise Science, Physical Education and Health Education, there are endless possibilities for the connections between SC students and Educare students.
Davis-Delano also mentioned the motor development skills class, and how students will be able to observe first-hand the development of children from newborn all the way up to age five. “This is much bigger than the teacher licensing program that we offer,” she stated.
Educare Springfield – a diamond in the rough. It might be hard to imagine all that this school will be able to accomplish before it is even open; however, there are high hopes and expectations for it. Davis-Delano emphasized, “Educare is taking best practices based on the research and based on evidence that folks who work in early education and care have to provide the best possible environment for children to learn who are four weeks old to five years old. Educare is working very hard to be a model of what the best practices in early education look like.” Although still unknown, one can say confidently that Educare Springfield is going to make a tremendous difference in the community, and Springfield College will grow with it too.
Photo Courtesy Danny Priest