Edina Public schools (EPS) recently integrated its Early Childhood Family Education and Early Childhood Special Education departments to form the Early Learning Center (ELC). A new site, complete with a wonderful new playground, offers programming for kids ages 0–5 and for parents with its unique parent-education program.
“The relationships we form here are like no other,” teacher Brenda Libert says. “People tell us, ‘Those first years we needed so much support, and you helped launch us.’ They just need support and to know they’re not alone.”
Families seek the center out for early childhood education and special education, but find the support extends beyond the classroom from baby education to parent education, all the way through preschool. With the collaboration of the two centers now a reality, families with young children of varying ages will find more streamlined support.
“As a coordinator, we hear over and over, ‘I have a child. I don’t know what to do,’” early childhood coordinator Leah Byrd says. The center helps families with a range of needs including developmental screening, home visits and mental health. “We’re really focused on impacting childhood development,” Byrd says.
The combination of these programs also allows coordinators and teachers to have a greater focus on equity. “We have such a diverse demographic of students,” says Byrd. “We want to be a resource in a culturally relevant way.”
One addition to the center is a space for families to wait for rides, as some don’t have cars to travel to the Edina Community Center, where ELC is located. Combining the branches has improved the ability to meet the diverse needs of students and their families, much of which has evolved as the center’s been open.
“We’re all going to become stronger,” says Libert, who’s been working at the center for 25 years. “All of us in our specialized areas coming together regardless of student age. We can really help our kids no matter where they are developmentally.”
Edina mom and Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) member Darcy Quarles enrolled her daughter after moving to the area. Hoping she’d make friends and have something to do, the center became a second home. “I think it was really life-changing for us,” says Quarles. “We’ve been through all of it there, and I just went to the baby class for the last time.”
Quarles took advantage of the parent education, while her daughter was able to prepare for elementary school both academically and socially. On her first day at Concord Elementary, her daughter recognized familiar faces from the center. “Now I’m on the PTO, and I have a chance to give back to a place that’s given us so much,” she says.
“It has a really inclusive feel,” Quarles says. “I don’t think there are many preschools in the area that have the diversity of EPS. They celebrate different cultures.”
Sign up for the center is rolling, but January registration takes place at the end of the month. Waitlists are common for this valuable community resource, but the ELC is often able to accommodate. While programs vary, many follow the EPS calendar.
Perhaps most importantly, teachers at the ELC understand the importance of supporting parents. “They don’t have to be perfect for their children to be amazing and grow and develop,” says Libert. “They come to the center here for real relationships and connectedness.” A brand new playground isn’t a bad perk either.