Columbus city and school district officials yesterday celebrated the opening of a new early childhood learning center in Linden, something they hope to replicate in other neighborhoods.
Mike Foley reports.
The Linden Park Early Childhood Education Center represents the city and school district’s commitment to offer high quality pre-kindergarten in Columbus. It’s a priority for Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, who in his State of the City earlier this year, noted that only a third of children who live in the Linden community have access to early childhood education opportunities. Research has shown that children with a good early education experience enter kindergarten with a better chance to succeed in the classroom and in life. The center in Linden hasn’t been open that long, but it’s already making a difference. Principal Candace Nespeca shares a story about a shy student who welcomed a new classmate.
“He reached out his hand and takes the hand of this brand new four-year-old who’s never been in this building, never seen these people, little people are looking at him, big people are looking at him, everyone is trying to make him comfortable. But his peer reached out to him – his peer who has not spoken that many words in the month we’ve had him and said ‘I like you’re shirt, I like dinosaurs, let’s go,’ all the while walking him to the hallway looking back to assure his new little friend that he was okay – ‘come on let’s go see our class.’ And these moments happen every day, and they may not seem huge to some, but you know that these moments really mean something. They mean that next year when it’s time for kindergarten, we’ve already jumped that hurdle, we’ve already conquered that interaction, and our little friend along with 60 and 70 of his other friends who are here are then ready for kindergarten.”
With classroom space for 200 students, the Linden center offers services from city, school and community-based providers. For the district, it’s part of a 22% increase in the number of Pre-K spots over the past four years. The city recently allocated nearly $5 million toward its Early Start Initiative. The mayor wants access to high quality early education throughout the city. There’s also an effort to increase the number of early childhood teachers in Columbus. Ohio State earlier this year announced the offering of 100 scholarships over the next five years to preschool and childcare teachers who already have an associate degree but want to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Graduates would be required to spend at least three years teaching in Columbus.