As the well-trodden African proverb states, it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of the City of St. Charles School District Early Childhood Center, it took a community to construct a building.
On April 4, 2017, District voters approved, by a 75% majority, Proposition KIDS, a $47 million no tax-rate increase bond issue. This paved the way for the erection of the Early Childhood Center, the flagship project of Proposition KIDS. A few months later, on June 22, the District broke ground on the Early Childhood Center and construction of the building was underway.
Yet, the genesis of the Early Childhood Center precedes Propositions KIDS. It’s been a labor of love for many within the district including Dr. Danielle Tormala, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the City of St. Charles School District.
“Providing a dedicated preschool building has been a dream of the District and the St. Charles community for many years,” Tormala said. “It was our goal to be able to provide all students, especially those deemed at-risk, with a solid early childhood education experience so they would leave for kindergarten on equal footing with their peers.”
Eight years ago, the District began offering a half-day preschool program with two teachers and a total of 60 students. Since then, the program has grown to include half-day, full-day, extended-day and early childhood special education options for students and now serves over 200 students. With such growth came the necessity of a building strictly for early childhood education.
Located at 1301 Boone’s Lick Road, the Early Child Center features 16 early childhood and early childhood special education classrooms with attached bathrooms, multiple therapy rooms to serve the needs of all students. The building of the Early Childhood Center provides approximately 320 spaces for students to enroll in the District preschool program.
The building also includes a studio classroom for singing, dancing and creating; a library for developing a love for reading; a culinary arts space to learn about making and trying new foods; a gymnasium that can also be used for large group meetings and is designed to be a shelter for the students and community in the event that it is ever needed; and a well-designed inclusive playground specifically created to help students of all abilities to learn, explore and play together.
In addition, there will be testing rooms, a nurse’s clinic, conference rooms, an office and workspaces for support staff, administration, Parents as Teachers and early childhood special education.
“While the Early Childhood Center is beneficial to the students who attend it, it will also benefit our six elementary schools by freeing up some space where our current preschool classrooms are housed,” said Dr. Jeff Marion, superintendent of the City of St. Charles School District.
One of the features that makes the City of St. Charles School District Early Childhood Center stand out from others is the “Our Town, St. Charles” developmental indoor playspace. Built in conjunction with Cunningham Recreation and Play 4 ALL, Our Town is designed to be a miniature version of Main Street St. Charles. The learning area features markets, shops and buildings that allow for students to play restaurant keeper, fire chief, police officer, medical professional, mayor, trolley conductor or whatever else their imagination can dream up.
Through guidance by Victoria Schmitt Babb from the Play 4 All campaign, this incredible room is made possible by businesses and sponsors throughout the St. Charles community.
“Play teaches children critical social skills like conflict resolution, team-work, patience, and empathy,” Babb said. “Play is universal. It’s a common ground that builds confidence, yields joy, and fosters memories that last a lifetime.”
Our Town’s tagline “Building Community Begins with Play” is even more applicable today as the need to bring people together, connect and listen to one another becomes greater.
“Finding common threads that connect us paves the way to more kindness and empathy,” Babb said.
What makes the “Our Town, St. Charles” unique are the direct community ties the playroom contains; it’s a child-sized community that is supported and sponsored by the actual St. Charles community. The town hall is sponsored by the St. Charles Noonday Rotary Club. The park is sponsored by St. Charles Jaycees. The bistro is sponsored by the Chartwells School Dining Services. Every item in the room has direct support from the members of the St. Charles community.
“It was important to us to bring the community into our preschool, especially since the community overwhelmingly supported our early childhood center through Prop KIDS,” Tormala said. “Together, we can support each child and their family to positively shape the future of the St. Charles community.”
While financial contributions have been made from these sponsors, the District is most excited about the services to the community these partnerships will provide. In addition to sponsoring the hospital, SSM Health plans on providing health-related parent education for the school community. St. Charles City Firefighters Outreach is sponsoring the firehouse and intends to provide classes on topics such as emergency preparedness and child/ infant CPR. First State Bank will sponsor the bank and offer financial seminars and information to parents on saving for college and teaching children how to manage money. The St. Charles Noonday Rotary Club plans to volunteer at the school and will serve as monthly guest readers of books on topics like friendship, service to others and the importance of community, which are ideals aligned with the mission of the Rotary Club.
Other sponsors of the “Our Town, St. Charles” playspace include City of St. Charles Mayor Sally Faith who will sponsor the trolley, St. Charles Optimists who are sponsoring the food truck, St. Charles School District Foundation, Barnes-Jewish St. Peters & Progress West, the Freymuth Family, the Charles and Judy Beckman Family, and Youth in Need.
In addition to the “Our Town, St. Charles” indoor play space, the Early Child Center will prominently feature a “Giving Tree” donor wall that will allow for members of the public to show their support for early childhood education and to the students who attend the school by sponsoring tree leaves, apples, butterflies and flowers. The St. Charles City-County Library Foundation has generously sponsored the trunk of the Giving Tree, making the piece rooted by another important educational cornerstone in the community.
“The Giving Tree will not only create a really nice, decorative piece for the building, it will also function as a tapestry of love and community support,” Tormala said.
To celebrate and to say thank you to everyone in the St. Charles community who helped make this building possible, the District is hosting a grand opening for the Early Childhood Center on Saturday, August 11, 2018 from 10AM – 2PM. The City of St. Charles Arts & Culture Commission provided a generous grant to ensure that the celebration of the Early Childhood Center will be an event for all to enjoy. Children’s activities, character appearances, music, building tours and food will be provided. The event will be staffed by volunteers from the We Love St. Charles philanthropic organization, among other community volunteers.
“Making this dream become a reality would have been impossible had it not been for the support of the entire City of St. Charles community,” Tormala said. “We should be extremely proud to live in a place where our children have the backing of the entire village.”
To learn more about the Early Childhood Center, preschool enrollment or donation opportunities, please go to www.stcharlessd.org/preschool.