A national early childhood education model that aims to close achievement gaps for children living in poverty is coming to western Massachusetts.
An Educare Learning Network pre-school is being developed in Springfield. Planned in the city’s Old Hill neighborhood, one of the poorest urban neighborhoods in the country, according to Census data, the $12 million state-of-the-art early childhood education center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019.
The pre-school will be operated by Head Start. Janis Santos, executive director of the area Head Start program, said it is one of the most exciting developments in her 45-year career as an early childhood educator.
" This is a dream come true," said Santos. " It is all for our children. Our passions is for our families and our children."
Educare began in 2000 with a single school in Chicago. In 2003, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund announced plans for a national network of schools. There are now 23 Educare schools in 15 states. The Springfield Educare school will be the first in Massachusetts.
Proponents tout it as a national model. The program places teachers with the same children from the time they enter the school as infants up to age 3. Parents are required to become deeply involved by participating in school activities, home visitations, and regular conferences with the school staff.
The goal of the program is to have children living in poverty start kindergarten ready to learn at the same pace as children from more advantaged backgrounds.
" There is a lot of research that show children who haven't had a high quality early childhood program and enter kindergarten are behind the other children and that is very sad," Santos said.
Santos said the school will be built on land owned by Springfield College next to the Springfield Public Schools’ Brookings elementary school.
"The Buffett Foundation loves to have these early childhood centers next to public schools so they are partners in transitioning our children into their kindergarten programs," Santos explained.
Funds to construct the pre-school building have been pledged by the Springfield-based Davis Foundation with contributions from two anonymous donors.
Once the new pre-school is up and running, an outside researcher will be hired to evaluate the program in Springfield, according to Nicole Blais, Director of Community Engagement for the local Head Start.
"So there is a huge data research piece attached to this project," said Blais.
Officials from Educare began looking at Springfield as a possible location for one of the network’s schools about two years ago.
Initial enrollment at the Springfield Educare school is projected to be 141 children.