Lawmakers Visit Atlanta Early Learning Program

Credit Michelle Wirth/WABE News

On Wednesday, lawmakers from around the nation visited what Georgia officials call the crown jewel of Early Care and Learning Centers in the state. The lawmakers are in Atlanta for the National Conference of State Legislatures. WABE’s Michelle Wirth reports Educare Atlanta in Mechanicsville is one of only eighteen U.S. centers of its kind.

Steve White directs Educare Atlanta.

“This is a preschool room. These children are newly three.”

He leads lawmakers into Arosha Stewart’s classroom where’s she teaching three year olds.

“If your name starts with a K stand up.”

The center in Dunbar Elementary School serves children from ages six weeks through pre-kindergarten. White says Educare Atlanta focuses on high quality learning for low-income, at-risk children. He says the center stresses parent engagement, uses research-based learning strategies and requires its lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. White also says it partners with the Center for Working Families to aid parents with employment and financial stability.

“I can’t tell verbally tell you the effect that what we’re doing has on the community, because those kids instead of teachers having to get children prepared to start to learn in kindergarten they walk in ready to learn.”

The center opened in 2010 and is a collaboration between Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Atlanta Public Schools. It’s  paid for with federal, state, local and private funding.

Gail Hayes with the Annie E. Casey Foundation says the center is producing results. She says one example is an assessment that predicts whether students will be proficient readers by third grade.

“In the fall of 2010 we had our three year old class and their average score was 76. Fast forward to the Spring of 2012, their receptive vocabulary score had increased to 96, so we think it’s had a huge impact and we’re going to follow them until they’re in high school.”

And many lawmakers like Maryland State Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard say they plan to take back what they learned to their home states.

“I see the integration of the parents, of the community, the programs that they have here that will support what the parents need and want. This is what we want is parental involvement, and they have it in this school.”

Other state lawmakers were also impressed, but say the challenge will be using their limited resources to provide the same kind of high-quality learning.