By Catherine Ferland
Holt Journal Staff Reporter
Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain development occurs before they enter kindergarten. Enrollment in early childhood education centers has been proven to increase a child’s chances of graduating high school, finding stable employment and decrease their chances of teen parenthood, crime and a need for welfare.
According to a study put out by the Rauch Foundation, only 14 percent of public education funding is spent on early childhood education in the United States. Last year, Holt joined the ranks of the few early childhood learning centers in the U.S. and Michigan when they changed Midway Elementary into Midway Early Learning Center.
Holt Public Schools Superintendent David Hornak said, “The beauty behind that is schools typically are closing gaps that are created from birth to five based on whatever circumstances.
“It is our hope that if we have a child that enrolls in our programming at six weeks old, we’re having a positive influence on that preparation so when they enter kindergarten they’re well prepared for the rest of the school career.”
The centers offer different options for children of all ages. Infant rooms focus on the development of early gross motor and cognitive recognition skills, while the rooms for two-year-olds and three-year-olds will focus on milestones like fine motor skills and speech.
“TS Gold is Teaching Strategies Gold and is used by our teachers to complete lesson plans, enter anecdotal records and pull data to evaluate how our children are growing in the different domains, like literacy, math, language, social-emotion and so on,” said Heather Crandall, the director of the Midway Early Learning Center. “While this data is used to evaluate growth, we also base our instruction on the children’s interests.”
The decision to create the Midway Early Learning center came when the school district realized that the elementary school classrooms were under capacity. This districtwide effort included making an additional year-round school and adding an extra campus at the high school.
Hornak, who has spent a large majority of his career teaching young students, said that he was very excited for the switch.
“I didn’t have these opportunities as a kid,” he said. “But the students that are behind us all are going to have some really unique opportunities and it’s going to be completely different from the way we went to school.”
Holt resident Carmen Quinn sent her son Carson, 5, to Midway Early Learning Center last year after moving from Lansing. She said that her and her husband both grew up in Holt and always wanted to move back.
Midway is the only preschool offered by the Holt school district and when Quinn found out that her family qualified for the Great Start Readiness Program, a state-funded financial aid program that aims to offer free preschool to families with financial need, they decided to send Carson.
The weekly rate for childcare for a preschooler at Midway Early Learning Center is $165 per week. The monthly rate for a preschooler to take part of the full curriculum five days a week is $2,510.
“We had previously had him at another childcare center and it was ridiculously expensive,” she said. “I think I was paying $350 a week for full-time childcare so with that program that they offered there I didn’t have to pay for his preschool just his childcare.”
Quinn said that she has seen academic improvement in her son.
“I noticed it was a lot more focused on his learning his letters a lot quicker, a lot more math type stuff,” she said. “His teacher was awesome. He had one of the only male teachers and he really did well with the kids. He was able to get them to learn through Legos for the math stuff.”
Both Quinn and her husband work full-time, so she said that she was happy to find a preschool that she felt was beneficial.
“I just feel like if you’re a working parent and you’re going to have your child in child care at least have them in a program or a preschool that teaches them what they’re supposed to know for going into kindergarten,” she said. “If they don’t do a preschool program and learn those things ahead of time it puts them that far behind.”
Since the center’s opening last year, it has become very popular.
“But Midway itself is thriving,” Hornak said. “It’s sought after.”
The center is looking to expand some of its facilities as demand has increased. Hornak said that the infant room has a waiting list.
Crandall also said that the center is looking to consolidate some of it’s programming.
“One change we have discussed is breaking down the silos and integrating all of our preschool programs together: GSRP, Tuition Based Preschool, and Early Childhood Special Education,” she said. “This is a goal that will take some time to get worked out.”
“Certainly we’re always looking to improve,” Hornak said. “That’s one of the things that I think Holt does really well. We really believe that we’re an organization that strives for continuous improvement. So rather than sitting here and just saying ‘we’re happy.’ No. Not unless every child is proficient.”