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Access to quality child care and education can have a remarkably positive impact on children — especially for those children who face developmental, physical or even economic challenges.

Ten years ago, the University of Delaware’s College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy (now the College of Education and Human Development) saw the opportunity to address this need by creating a full-day, full year program for children and families, with an emphasis on serving children from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs.

The Early Learning Center (ELC) was modeled after UD’s Laboratory Preschool, designed to be an education resource for children, families, the University and the state of Delaware.

On Friday, Sept. 12, the ELC held an anniversary celebration attended by more than 300 children, family, staff and friends. In addition to a enjoying Zumba, face painting, a barbeque and UDairy Creamery ice cream, guests were treated to a sing-along with the ELC children and a ceremony honoring the visionaries who helped to make the center a reality.

Lynn Okagaki, dean of the College of Education and Human Development, explained the value the ELC provides.

“The ELC opened its doors 10 years ago with 80 children,” she said. “Today we care for nearly 300 children at the ELC in Newark and Wilmington (which opened seven years ago). Twenty percent of our enrollment is reserved for children with special needs. And 30 percent live in households that qualify under the federal definition of poverty. The racial and economic diversity of our families reflects the diversity of the state — and enriches the learning environment for the children and for the UD students.”

The ELC is nationally accredited — an accolade achieved by fewer than 10 percent of early care and education centers — and recipient of a five-star rating by the Delaware Stars Quality Rating System.

In addition to providing high quality child care, the ELC serves as a living, learning laboratory for University students and faculty.

More than 400 UD students from five of the seven colleges come to the ELC each year to observe and work with the children. Since 2004, over 130 research projects have been conducted at the ELC. The emphasis of the research is finding practical solutions for the challenges encountered by the children and families.

During the celebration, Peg Bradley, ELC director, recognized Dan Rich, former provost and University Professor of Public Policy in the School of Public Policy and Administration, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, and Mike Castle, former governor and congressman, for their assistance in advancing this distinctive model of child care.

Tim Barnekov, dean of the college during this time, was also in attendance, a strong supporter and advocate of the ELC from its inception.

“Serving as provost, Dan Rich worked with faculty across the University to outline the initial vision for the ELC and provided personal leadership to make that vision a reality,” said Bradley. “Gov. Castle and Sen. Carper both championed the importance of early childhood education in our state and were instrumental in rallying support and generating funding to launch the ELC.”

Bradley then recognized the 10 members of the teaching staff who have been with the ELC since it opened a decade ago.

The ceremony commenced with State Sen. Ernie Lopez, a 2012 Ed.D. alumnus, presenting Bradley with a state of Delaware Senate tribute thanking the ELC for its extraordinary service. It stated that their dedicated staff “are to be applauded for their efforts to ensure the success of its childcare, support and research programs and the training provided to students, faculty and community professionals.”

About the ELC

The Early Learning Center supports children and their families by providing a high quality, nationally accredited program of early care and education. Its programs are designed to foster a child’s natural curiosity towards learning. The curricula, developed and implemented by highly-qualified educators is designed to maximize the cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of every child.

The ELC has two locations — Newark and Wilmington. The Newark center welcomes children ages 6 weeks to 5 years, as well as before and after care for school age children. The Wilmington location is available to children 6 week to 3 years who are enrolled in the New Directions Early Head Start program.

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Kevin Quinlan

This article appeared on UDaily on September 18, 2014.