When the Washington School District’s new Early Learning Center opens in August it will be ready to serve the community’s youngest residents.
The 25,000-square-foot center is being built on the Washington West Elementary campus and will combine three programs under one roof — early childhood special education, Parents as Teachers and all of the in-town preschools.
Construction is on schedule and proceeding nicely, says Assistant Superintendent Dr. Judy Straatmann, who has been more focused on the internal components of the center, such as curriculum and programming.
In addition to combining three programs, now scattered throughout the district, the center will offer new opportunities for the district’s youngest patrons and their families, Straatmann said.
The building will house 13 classrooms in total, she said, with infant/toddler, 2-year-old, preschool and early childhood special education rooms, the Parents As Teachers office and meeting rooms, and a multipurpose room for group meetings and presentations.
The district is currently seeking a director for the new center. Interviews are scheduled to take place in mid-January.
Straatmann said the district’s early childhood program will offer high-quality early learning classrooms for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years, and will follow all guidelines under state licensing and Missouri Accreditation.
Details are still being finalized, she said, but the center plans to offer infant/toddler care, as well as a 2-year-old classroom, from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
That is addition to full-day preschool programs, operating from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.
Three-day preschool programs, meeting Monday, Wednesday and Friday, also are planned, as well as two-day programs, meeting Tuesday and Thursday.
The district will continue to offer its traditional half-day, four-day preschool program, from 7:45 to 10:45 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
The center also will offer extended hours beginning at 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. and 2:45 to 6 p.m.
Straatmann said tuition fees will be very competitive, but must be approved by the school board prior to being posted.
Tuition information will be released and formal registration will begin after Jan. 22, she said.
Early Childhood Special Education
The district’s early childhood special education (ECSE) program, now housed in trailers on the Washington West campus, will move into permanent quarters with the center’s opening.
The ECSE program provides services for children, ages 3-5, who demonstrate developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: cognitive development, communication development, hearing and vision, social and emotional development, adaptive development and physical development.
Eligibility is determined through individual evaluation completed by the district’s ECSE diagnostic staff.
Examples of service that children may be eligible to receive include speech therapy, language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and specialized services in vision and hearing impairments.
Parents as Teachers
Also finding a new home at the center will be Parents as Teachers, a free state-mandated program, designed to assist and support parents with children, prenatally to kindergarten age.
Parents as Teacher is currently located in the technology and learning center off Highway 47. Its offices have moved locations several times.
As part of the program, parents are offered a curriculum to help their children learn skills and positive behavior to increase the likelihood of being successful in school.
The program offers parents personal visits with their children, educational parent programs, parent/child activity sessions and resources for guidance and support.
Parents as Teachers also offers developmental screenings for children, 3 months to 5 years, for information on individual growth and detection of potential delays.
Straatmann said all programs in the early learning center will be using the state approved Project Construct curriculum infused with components from High Scope curriculum as well as input from certified preschool teachers.
“The curriculum includes technology with each classroom being equipped with SMART boards to enable teachers to provide a variety of learning experiences to the students,” she said.
Programs also are being studied to provide students the opportunity to excel in the areas of science, technology, math and foreign language, Straatmann said. “The additional programs may be provided with increased tuition or other means,” she said.
Straatmann said classrooms will be integrated, meaning that students with varying levels of development will be intermingled to provide opportunities for students to learn from peers with a variety of different learning levels and backgrounds.
“Classroom that are integrated will have two teachers, one with a prekindergarten-third-grade teaching certificate and one with an early childhood special education certificate, to broaden the learning for all students enrolled in the program,” she said.
All preschool teachers, early childhood special education teachers and service providers (speech therapist, occupational therapists, physical therapists) if not already trained, will be trained to use the Project Construct curriculum during training sessions planned for Jan. 29, Feb. 7, March 19 and April 25.
The Early Learning Center will not only benefit children and families, Straatmann said.
High school students who are interested in pursuing a childhood development associate degree will have the opportunity to take course work in conjunction with East Central College.
“This will be similar to what we do at the Four Rivers Career Center,” Straatmann said. “So not only will WHS students benefit, but all of the sending high schools, can send interested students.
“The district’s Early Learning Center is a perfect setting for the students to gain first-hand knowledge and experience while working under the guidance of high-quality certificated teachers,” she said.
Straatmann said the playground for the new center is being designed based on a natural exploration philosophy and will be American Disabilities Association (ADA) compliant.
“We are hoping to include swings, climbing apparatus, a community garden, as well as including all natural building blocks for students to use as they learn through play,” she said.
The target date for substantial completion of the center is June 2014, with programs starting in August.
Lawlor Corporation is the general contractor for the $4.1 million project, which is being financed through a $9 million bond issue approved this past April.