The “mood meter” was off the charts Thursday, overwhelmed with good feeling as guests and dignitaries cut the ribbon on a brand new early-education center in Fair Haven Heights.
The ceremony happened Thursday morning as more than 100 people, including little kids and mayoral candidates, gathered to celebrate the opening of a new $3.6 million facility for infants and toddlers. It’s called the Friends Center for Children, nestled beside a city park atop East Grand Avenue.
The building, paid for through $1.4 million in privately raised money $2 million from the state bond commission, will allow the Friends Center to increase its capacity from 16 families to 78.
Beneath a picture-perfect sunny sky, Executive Director Allyx Schiavone declared, “Welcome to our new home. What’s your mood today?”
Guests were invited to use the “mood meter,” a board with axes indicating energy level and positivity. People place magnets in the quadrant that represents their mood.
After a groudbreaking in last December, the new center took barely 10 months to complete. It was so efficient that state Sen. Martin Looney pondered whether the state should turn some construction projects over to the Quakers.
Schiavone politely declined the offer.
Although the tuition is pricey—$18,200 for infants and toddlers and $16,000 for pre-schoolers—nearly all of the currently enrolled 42 kids receive some form of assistance, said Schiavone. She has led the effort to create the new early learning center, for kids of all religious persuasions.
Nearly all of the kids currently enrolled are from New Haven, and many from the Fair Haven area, added Schiavone.
Speaker after speaker, including Sen. Looney, spoke about how crucial early childhood education is not only for kids and families but for society as a whole. “So many children come to school ill-prepared, and turn off. This will help deal with that issue. They will be cherished in this atmosphere, and ready for school. There is great joy here,” Looney said.
“The achievement gap starts before kids go to school,” declared mayoral candidate Toni Harp. (Her opponent, Justin Elicker, was in the audience.)
The new superintendent of schools, Garth Harries, praised the investment in the youngest of students and praised the Friends’ school for advancing the idea that “our goals are not only academic. Our goals are [also] to develop values, and people,” he said to great applause.
Then he praised the new, svelte, green facility, which boasts a roof garden and electric car plug-in station. “Can I use the nap facilities?” he quipped.
Amy Migliore-Dest (pictured)—a parent, New Haven school teacher, and Friends board member—visited the center with her 2-year old son, Finn. They stopped Inside the infant/toddler “Truth” room. Each of the rooms is named after a Quaker value.
The head teacher in the room, Jennifer DiGioia, said that kids were acclimating to the new space with projects on how to identify and express feelings through using the mood meter, and “reading” books that show babies’ faces.
Parents are encouraged to use the mood meter board too—just as Schiavone urged all visiting dignitaries to do—in order indicate how their kids are at drop off time.
Migliore-Dest, a parent at the school since the new facility was just an idea, said what sets the school apart is not only the great ratio of teachers to kids, but the always-positive attitude, the relevance of emotional education, “and meeting each kid where they are.”
Migliore-Dest, an art teacher at the Engineering, Science, Math University School (ESMUS), added, “Language, sociability, it makes such a difference to have that as a foundation at an early age.”
After the ribbon-cutting, parent Carolyn Christmann said that one of her sons was a late walker and talker. She said the staff worked with him in a “seamless way.” That included talking to the child’s doctor, speech therapist, and others, and going “above and beyond.”
The result: a boost in social development and learning.
The school, which had just six teachers less than a year ago, now has 16 and will eventually grow to 21 to serve the 78 kids. Schiavone said the growth will be deliberate, to maintain tone and values.
Although all the infant/toddler slots are taken, the school is looking for pre-school kids and their families to join up. In the Quaker spirit, each adult in the family must also contribute an hour and a half of cooperative time. That could mean doing jobs ranging from helping with the newsletter to working in the classroom.
posted by: Brutus2011 on September 20, 2013 8:00am
I have followed this endeavor since reported by the NHI last year. This sounds wonderful.
I am curious,though, as to the steep tuition.
Perhaps someone could enlighten me?
posted by: FairHavenRes on September 20, 2013 10:59am
Brutus, this tuition is in line with other high quality, private preschools in the area. If you look at Leila Day (1460/mo), Calvin Hill (1611/mo), and Edith B Jackson (1305/mo), you’ll find similar rates for similar programs. One thing not mentioned in the article is whether the tuition is for a full year (12 months) or a school year, which affects the math a bit, too. Some early childhood programs offer sliding scale tuition, which is very beneficial to parents earning less than the top tier incomes (I know both Calvin Hill & Leila Day do). Some programs also participate in New Haven’s School Readiness program, allowing parents with lower incomes to apply for grants and pay even lower tuition.
posted by: Billy on September 20, 2013 5:32pm
I think there’s another question implicit in Brutus’s question: why are so-called “high-quality” private preschools so darn expensive? While we’re mentioning Leila Day and Calvin Hill, you might as well mention the new ultra-expensive childcare center at the Div School. The fact that the Quaker daycare is comparable to incredibly over-priced institutions isn’t addressing the fact that these centers are totally out of range for the vast majority of New Haven residents. Toni Harp is right - the achievement gap starts before kindergarten. I don’t follow the logic, though, that expensive programs, even with limited financial aid, addresses that disparity.
That being said, I totally respect the Quakers approach to educating the whole child.
posted by: iluvnewhaven on September 20, 2013 9:10pm
The cost of tuition is for 12 months, but the payment is over 11 months. The tuition is based on a sliding scale, but the scale is the same for both the infant/toddler rate and the preschool rate. So…it appears that up to the 16K limit for preschoolers, parents would pay exactly the same amount for their infant as they would for a preschooler. I always thought that the cost went down when your kid got older. That being said, the sliding scale is very generous and they participate in Care for Kids and other programs that offset the cost for lower income families.
Also, as far as I knew, the policy for the contribution of parent time was 1 1/2 per adult per child. So if you have two kids there, each parent must do 3 hours per week. The time commitment does seem a little steep when you need child care because you have a job and are paying “comparable” prices to other high-quality schools in the area with no cooperative time requirements. Still, better to have more child care options rather than less.
posted by: nhaventeacher on September 21, 2013 6:25am
The cooperative part of the program is not intended to overwork anyone or put anyone out. It is intended to keep families engaged in their child’s education. What it also does is put more adults in the classrooms bringing the ratio of children to teachers down even further. The ratios are unique to the center and are much lower than any I’ve ever heard of. One of the values focused on in the curriculum is community and the coop speaks to this. The requirement is 1.5 hours per adult in the home. If you are a two-parent family with two children, your requirement is 4 hours per week. That being said, the hours can be spent in a variety of ways: time in the classroom during and after school hours, getting library books, laundry, etc and it is flexible to meet the needs of the family. You can also help with the annual fundraiser the Fair Haven Family Stroll, which works with other Fair Haven child care providers to raise money and awareness of the need for high quality care in greater New Haven.
The tuition is based on a sliding scale so families pay what they can afford. Why is the cost of care so high? The center has a very low child to teacher ratio, tuition is for the entire year, they are only closed two weeks a year, they have excellent quality toys and books for the children, they provide snacks twice a day for every child, etc etc. The center is not only a fun place for kids to experience their learning, it is about helping children be prepared emotionally and academically for the next phase of their education, It is also about families and helping them be advocates for their child’s education. The expansion was intended to do this on a larger scale.