by Harold C. Ford
A broad coalition of public and private organizations—led by the Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation—publicly launched a dazzling new state-of-the-art school that will provide early childhood education for 220 Flint children from birth to age five. Educare Flint opened its doors to students on Dec. 4, less than a year after construction began on the almost 36,000-square-foot school.
“The facility, combined with the Cummings Great Expectations facility, will serve as centers for learning in our community,” said C.S. Mott Foundation President Ridgway White at the public launch Dec. 11.
White added, “Our hope is that the children and that the child care providers from licensed daycare centers to home providers, grandparents, families…will participate in teaching and learning opportunities provided here and at Cummings so that the benefits of these facilities will spread beyond the four walls and into the entire community.”
The Educare Flint project seems to touch all the bases suggested by modern education reformers including: modern brick and mortar features; wraparound services for families and children; instruction and care informed by research and delivered by a highly qualified staff; and community partnerships.
Brick and mortar features:
- Heated sidewalks provide a snowmelt system that more safely enables the exit and entry of parents and children.
- ThermaWrap Insulation provides more cost effective climate control within the building.
- Large windows throughout the facility bathe the interior in natural light while providing a generous view of the outside world.
- Specially-designed bathrooms in every classroom allow Educare Flint staff the opportunity to monitor their children.
- Each classroom wing is equipped with a washer, dryer, and dishwasher.
- Security is enhanced by strategically located offices for administration and security personnel, security cameras, locked doors leading to both classroom wings, and fenced playgrounds.
- Outdoor space includes age-designated playgrounds, trike and running paths, water features, specially designed reading spaces, and canopied areas to provide protection from inclement weather.
- Public spaces include a large multi-purpose room, adult learning rooms, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) room, basketball courts and a walking trail.
“Design matters, the quality of the building matters, not just in terms of its obvious design around the interests and needs of the kids it will serve,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, “but because it sends such a powerful message of the commitment that our community collectively has to these precious young lives.”
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley told the approximate 200 persons assembled at the public launch that health care services, nutritional services, daycare services, different funding sources, different application processes are now blended into “…a place where people could go in the front door and the government would just work out all the details in bringing those funding streams together so that it’s a seamless process…”
Instruction and care:
- Full-day and full-year services are offered.
- Special needs students are serviced in an inclusive setting.
- Small class sizes and low child teacher-ratios allow teachers more opportunity to provide individualized instruction.
- Children stay with the same teachers for several years to foster strong relationships.
- Continuous data collection and analysis informs classroom instruction.
- Professional development of Educare Flint staff is continuous.
- Master teachers serve as curriculum coaches for classroom teachers.
“I know how important it is for young children to start off with the very best educational opportunities,” State Sen. Jim Ananich said to those gathered at the public launch. During a tour of the facility, he described “the pure joy that it brought to my heart to see these kids that were loved, to see these kids that were cared for…” Ananich is a former teacher, husband of a current teacher, and parent of a young child in Flint.
- Parents and families were elevated by most speakers at the public launch as key partners in determining the success of the project. Cynthia Jackson, senior vice-president of Chicago-based Educare Learning Network, informed those gathered that, “We are doing some cutting-edge work to define authentic and effective parent engagement…to authentically partner with families.”
- Public partners include the State of Michigan; the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) which will operate the facility; Flint Community Schools; and the University of Michigan-Flint.
- Private partners include the C.S. Mott Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.
- Nine partners helped with construction and financing of the building including: Uptown Reinvestment Corporation, Flint Community Schools, Consortium Group, DW Lurvey Construction, Flint Kids Learn, IFF, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, PNC Bank, and RDG Planning & Design.
- The building is owned by Flint Kids Learn, a supporting organization of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
Educare Flint is the largest of 23 facilities in the coast-to-coast Educare Learning Network, according to Jackson. “When I drove up today I went, ‘Wow! It is humungous! It is truly phenomenal,’” Jackson said.
The Mott Foundation provided $11 million in grants to support the construction. According to a press statement, Educare Flint was “launched in the wake of the Flint water crisis as part of an urgent effort to increase access to early childhood education…” Mott has pledged $100 million to help amend the adverse effects of Flint’s water crisis upon its population, especially children, the statement summarized.
According to Jackson, Educare facilities typically take four to five years to develop. She noted the Educare Flint project coalesced in fewer than two years.
Jackson described herself as the kind of person the Educare Network sends in to make sure that the local community has everything ready it needs to be successful.
“…I must say that my visit here…blew me away to the point where I just stood up and gave them (the Educare Flint partners) a standing ovation,” Jackson said.
A local, state, national model?
“As we continue to build on these collaborations,” GISD superintendent Lisa Hagel said, “using Educare Flint as a model, children across our entire community will benefit for years to come.”
Calley, who launched his bid for the Republican nomination for governor in November, touted Educare Flint as a model that he predicted will be copied all over Michigan. “As I look forward to where education goes from here and how we get kids ready, this is it,” he said.
Informed by a more national perspective, Jackson said Flint is “…a model for the nation of how, when a community makes smart, early childhood investments, it can deliver on the great American promise of equal opportunity and ensure that every child can grow up healthy, happy, and ready to compete in school.”
That “great American promise” of education as a gateway to success has ebbed in recent decades. In his 2008 book The Global Achievement Gap, author Tony Wagner noted:
- The high school graduation rate in the U.S. (about 70 percent) is now well behind that of countries such as Denmark (96 percent), Japan (93 percent), Poland (92 percent), and Italy (79 percent).
- Only about a third of U.S. high school students graduate “ready for college.”
- The U.S. now ranks tenth among industrial nations in the rate of college completion by 25- to 44-year-olds.
In their 2008 book The Race Between Education and Technology, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, economists at Harvard, noted two distinct periods in the economic history of the U.S in the last century:
- An increase in the high school graduation rate from 9 percent in 1910 to 77 percent in 1970 helped flatten the class structure as the U.S. became the wealthiest nation on the planet.
- The nation’s graduation rate flatlined at about 75 percent while inequality began rising sharply in the 1970s and 1980s. And poverty increased, especially among the nation’s urban poor.
Goldin and Katz reasoned that increasing the educational success rate of children in poverty is essential to the nation’s future success. Flint’s higher-than-average poverty rate is accompanied by its children’s abysmal scores on standardized tests.
A lifelong educator’s perspective
Flint needs new models for success and Educare Flint may prove to be one of those models. Many education reformers (this author included) believe that the models for shaking this American nation from its educational doldrums begs a quadrupedal solution involving government, nonprofits, higher education, and business and industry. Educare Flint is such a model.
The challenge for Flint schools moving forward will be to summon additional resources, assemble additional partnerships, and replicate some semblance of the Educare model for other Flint children. Flint superintendent Bilal Tawaab agreed. He told East Village Magazine (EVM), “I think the key as we move forward is making sure that all of our kids are receiving this quality of instruction.”
The definition of “all of our kids” may prove problematic. Tawaab told EVM in March that only one of three school-age children in the city, about 5,000, attend Flint’s public schools. Some 5,000 others attend charter and private schools while about 5,000 others opt for Schools of Choice and attend other public schools.
What kids need and deserve:
Kildee found reason for optimism. “When you see people who don’t always agree on everything set those differences aside and put our energies from the federal government, the state government, local government, public and private, putting all the differences aside and saying, ‘Look, the highest priority for all of us is the future of these kids,’ ” he said. “That’s a pretty powerful statement…a powerful statement about the kind of community we are.”
“This is what my child deserves, a wonderful building like this with great staff members,” Breyanna Chism, an Educare Flint parent and staff member, said. “Every child in Flint should be able to experience something like this.”
Flint mayor Karen Weaver, still buoyant from the recent reopening of Flint’s Capitol Theater, agreed: “This is not only what kids need, this is what kids deserve.”
Parents interested in enrolling their children in Educare Flint should call (810) 591-KIDS.
Editor’s Note: Harold C. Ford is retired from a 44-year career in public education that included: one year as a substitute teacher in Flint; 30 years as a classroom teacher in Beecher; 10 years as director of the Beecher Scholarship Incentive Program funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation; and three years as supervisor of Beecher’s Ninth Grade Academy. He can be reached at email@example.com.