This new Flint school could shape early childhood education nationwide

FLINT, Michigan—Today new doors open in Flint. 

Today, Educare Flint begins its mission to change the way public education is defined nationwide. The 36,000-square-foot, $15-million facility boasts a parent center, theater, a resource room for teachers, play spaces, a STEM learning lab, and classrooms packed with age-appropriate learning toys for children to play and learn.

Built on the campus of Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School, Educare Flint is a modern building featuring sharp angles, rolling play areas and cartoonish playhouses. The school opened to students Dec. 4 and celebrated its grand opening Dec. 11, 2017. The purpose here is simple: To open even more doors.

“This school will define Flint as a national leader in early childhood education,” said Isaiah M. Oliver, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. “Study after study has shown the long-term benefits of early childhood education, but now—here in Flint, Michigan—we are working to fundamentally change the way we define public education so that we can give the best opportunities to all kids.

“We owe Flint kids a fair shot and quality early childhood education is the first step for this group of Flint kids.”

Related story: Flint, Michigan is changing the world. Again.

The funding and the massive collaborative effort developed in the wake of the Flint Water Crisis. In 2014-15 improperly treated and monitored water caused lead to leech from the city’s pipes and increased levels of lead in the city’s water. Lead exposure can be harmful to young children whose brains are developing—and early childhood education is widely promoted as a way to combat the effects of lead exposure. 

Shortly after a study showed lead levels increasing, the city switched its water source and pipe replacement is ongoing in the city. 

Agencies throughout the city came together in the wake of the crisis to coordinate response efforts and develop short- and long-term strategies while still also trying to determine additional possible impacts for city residents.

Construction of Educare Flint was funded largely by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation—which pledged up to $100 million to helping the city recover from the water crisis. More than 60 percent of those grants so far have gone toward education initiatives, including at least $11 million to build Educare Flint.

Ridgway White, president of the Mott Foundation, said the foundation continues to be guided today, as it was more than 90 years ago when his great-grandfather established it, by a commitment to the Flint community and to education. 

Mott is one of a broad network of partners participating in the Flint Early Childhood Collaborative, which also includes the Community Foundation of Greater Flint., University of Michigan-Flint, Genesee Intermediate School District, Flint Community Schools, and the state of Michigan.

Educare Flint will enroll 220 children between 2 months and 5 years and is in addition to the Great Expectations early childhood education centers at Cummings and Brownell-Holmes schools in the Flint School District.

Educare Flint serves more than just the students. Through a unique two-generational approach, it also will serve parents—providing them with education, job training, and resources  to lift the well-being of the entire family.

The adult program will include three tiers to provide different educational options—from more casual financial literacy, gardening and nutrition classes to a more intense small group cohort that will focus on learning a specific skill or earn a specific certification. 

Denise Smith serves as the executive director of the Flint Early Childhood Collaborative and Educare Flint and her mission is to ensure that the impact of Educare Flint goes beyond the school itself. She heads active outreach efforts to provide support and assistance for early childhood providers throughout Flint. She comes to Flint with 20 years experience—and  a deep desire to impact state and national policy on early childhood education. 

“I came here because I knew it was an opportunity to change practice—not only for educators but for policy and legislators. … Not only can we create this very high standard of what quality is and should be—and therefore call for that investment in it—we can prove out that every child, regardless of circumstance, can be so successful.”

Educare Flint is part of the nationwide Educare Learning Network, which includes more than 20 other schools nationwide and focuses on systematically providing high-quality early childhood education—particularly to low-income families—and measuring its results so that its impact can be quantified. 

And, ultimately, set the stage for increased investment in early childhood education. 

“We need to level the playing field for them,” Smith says. “We need to provide opportunities, and we definitely need to change the narrative of what’s happened here.”
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