WATERVILLE — Since Hayden Breton was two months old, her mother has brought her to Educare Central Maine for early childhood education. Breton’s now 4, and her mother attributed Educare’s work for helping to educate her daughter.
“This place just helped bring Hayden out of her shell,” said Megan Knowles. “It helped her socially and her mannerisms — her language is more advanced.”
Knowles was one of the guests at Educare Wednesday afternoon when Sen. Angus King visited. King spent about an hour touring the building with Rhonda Kaiser, Educare Central Maine’s site manager, Kathy Colfer, Kennebec Valley Community Action Program director of child and family services, AOS 92 superintendent Eric Haley and Lauren Sterling, Educare Central Maine’s philanthropy specialist. During the tour, King walked through several classrooms, talking with teachers and interacting with the students.
“You can’t help but be overwhelmed at how terrific the facility itself is,” King said, referring to the modern construction of the building, which opened in 2010, and the array of murals and students’ artwork lining the hallways. But, he added, “the heart of it is the program for the kids and what it’s doing.”
Educare Central Maine, which is connected to George J. Mitchell Elementary School on Drummond Avenue, is one of 21 schools nationwide that demonstrates how to blend and coordinate early education and development from children age six weeks to five years. The program works to prepare children to enter kindergarten engaged, healthy and socially ready to succeed.
Educare, which serves about 200 children in the Waterville area, is a partnership between area public schools and the Kennebec Valley Community Action Early/Head Start program. Once the children start kindergarten, their progress is tracked through the third grade through a partnership with AOS 92.
“I think we all have this feeling that preschool education is important, but in order to allocate the funds necessary to support it, we need to be able to demonstrate that,” King said. “I think these folks are doing that. They’re tracing the progress of the students through elementary school.”
Citing the recently approved federal budget, King stressed the importance of early childhood education. In the budget, there is a proposed $250 million in discretionary investment for preschool development grants for this year, which will ensure states willing to commit to expanding preschool access can obtain critical investments necessary.
“The return on investment in terms of schooling and educational obtainment is immense,” King said. “If you give people a solid base in education, that’s going to carry them right through.”
Knowles, 22, heard about Educare from her high school guidance counselor. Once her daughter was born, a representative from Educare visited Knowels and Hayden at home when Hayden was a month old. When Knowles brought Hayden to Educare at two months old, she didn’t feel like she was dropping her daughter off at a stranger’s house. The parental outreach and collaboration that Educare establishes is something that sets it apart from other childhood education programs, said philanthropy specialist Sterling.
“A main feature of Educare is parent engagement,” she said.
The first Educare Learning Network opened in Chicago in 2000, and Waterville is its 13th school. The central Maine center has been featured on NBC’s “Education Nation” as an innovative education program that demonstrates success in preparing low-income children for kindergarten.
This is a corrected version of this story.