Children Matter: New Family Resource Center, and What’s New at Emeryville Child Development Center

May 2, 2013
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New Family Resource and Wellness Center!

Several years ago, John Sugiyama, interim superintendent of Emery Unified School District, put together a small working group to look at services in Emeryville for children birth to 5 and their families.  There were many gaps in services and families looked to Berkeley and Oakland for support.  Using information prepared by the working group, Superintendent Sugiyama wrote a federal grant to bring resources to these families and fill the service gaps.  Emeryville USD received a federal grant of $250,000 to open a Family Resource Center and alleviate some of the difficulties families faced.

The grant’s main purpose is to provide a “rainbow of services” targeted at children and families of all ages.  This grant provides funding to set up the Family Resource Center and implement a unique city-wide, birth to 5 project—”The 5 Bold Initiatives”—that encompasses (1) search and serve, (2) promoting  school readiness, (3) building community capacity to access services, (4) a coordinated network of service providers, and (5) early screening, identification and referral.

The Family Resource and Wellness Center opened on March 26th at the city’s recreational building, 4300 San Pablo Ave.  The 5 Bold Initiatives Project has been incorporated into EUSD’s Coordinated School Health: A Framework for Wellness Program and is one of eight elements in this framework.  For more information on this project, contact Wanda Hundley, Family Resource Center Director, 510.596.4384; wanda.hundley@emeryusd.org.

What’s New at the Emeryville Child Development Center

The Emeryville Child Development Center (ECDC), (located at 1220 53rd St.), will be hiring new teachers.  As staff numbers increase the Center will be able to enroll more children to meet ECDC’s new licensing capacity.  In October, the Center lost its second Director in less than two years. The director, Mary Anne Doan, took a position at First 5, Alameda County.  The new director, Diana Garcia-Ortiz, originally hired as an Interim Family Subsidy Specialist in October, and Education Supervisor Antoinette Edwards, who was hired in November, are working together to realize the potential of the program.  It is not an easy task, and it needs the support of the teachers, advisory committee, city staff, city council and the community, including local businesses, both small and large.  New ECDC Advisory Committee Chair Mira Roseman has replaced Brian Carver, and Council Member Jac Asher has replaced Council Member Nora Davis as Advisory Committee member.  There are still opportunities to join the committee so please consider getting involved!

The Center no longer serves food from its kitchen, but now contracts with a food service program for the children’s meals.  Although there is a beautiful kitchen on site, it is difficult because of staffing issues to organize and cook daily meals.

The Value of Emeryville’s Child Development Center (ECDC)

What does it mean for the city of Emeryville to have a Center such as ECDC right here in our small town?  The possibilities are endless.  This is a chance for the city to think about what it means to support a relationship-based center that connects to the whole community.  A report on the center in March 2012, conducted by BANDTEC, an early education consultancy group, provided crucial information that enabled the city and Center to begin work toward excellent care and education. This report is available on the ECDC city website. It is worth reading.  It offers a comprehensive look at multiple aspects of the program and highlights both areas of strength and areas in which growth and support are required.  It is important to understand the impact of such a thorough analysis of the city’s program.  And, this transparency is an indication of the commitment of the council and staff to have a high-quality center in our city.  The center has been working since March toward achieving the report’s recommendations through a quality improvement plan (QIP).

With so much change and lack of continuity in leadership in the past two years, there is more stress, and staff and children are vulnerable to it. Meanwhile, the state’s licensing agency is stretched thin, having suffered numerous cutbacks over the last few years. For this reason, the agency only attends to programs brought its attention. It would take a book to explain the challenges to quality, support, and training facing early education here in California and nationwide.  But there are many groups working with our own ECDC to improve its quality and to build a community for children and families.

The Center itself is a beautiful building and the environment offers great learning spaces for children and adults.  But one of the questions  remaining for me is will the city and staff open themselves up to multiple perspectives on how children learn and how best to support them and their families?  One of the areas that must be examined is curriculum.  This is such an important part of what makes a program successful.  It is so easy to get caught up in a particular ready-made curriculum that costs a fortune but provides minimal results.  I hope, with wider discussion, we can avoid such traps.  We have several excellent programs close by that could serve as sister schools to support the staff in moving toward excellence in both curriculum development and understanding children’s learning.

Stay connected to Emeryville’s early education center.  Support it any way you can.  Please consider donating to Friends of ECDC, a non-profit that supports the Center’s work. There is also a scholarship program being developed to help low-income families. Supporting young children and families is crucial for the good of the whole community.  As James Heckman, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, said: “Great gains are to be had by investing in early childhood development—from birth to age five.”

“Children Matter” columnist Ruth Major is an Early Education and Infant Family Mental Health Consultant. She is also Executive Director of the Read-Aloud Volunteer Program (RAVP) in Richmond, CA.

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