New preschool facility in West St. Paul off to a good start

The ECFE, Early Learning and Family Resource Center, Grand Opening located in West St. Paul at 1970 Christensen Avenue held an open house for the community on Oct. 1.  (Linda E. Andersen/Review)
The ECFE, Early Learning and Family Resource Center, Grand Opening located in West St. Paul at 1970 Christensen Avenue held an open house for the community on Oct. 1. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)
The Inclusion Classroom is one of the many classrooms focusing on including many types of young learners. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)
The Inclusion Classroom is one of the many classrooms focusing on including many types of young learners. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Paula Kraus, a Mendota Heights mother of four, says it was a bit intimidating for her 3-year-old daughter when they occasionally had to walk through the front doors of Friendly Hills Middle School to access the preschool classroom.

But the days of tacking preschool programs onto existing education facilities, at least for the school district, have come to a close.

The newly dedicated space for preschoolers at the early learning site in West St. Paul — where the classroom furniture is kid-sized and the space is equipped with child safety locks — is a welcomed resource for families in the West. St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District.

"It's just is a very appealing building — the colors, the sizes of things," says Kraus, whose youngest daughter currently attends one of the programs at the new site. "It's great that [nearly] everything is in one place."

The grand opening for the district's new Early Learning and Family Resource Center, located at 1970 Christensen Avenue, West St. Paul, took place Oct. 1. Many of the programs are already full, says Laurie Hume, assistant director of the district's early learning program. There are still some openings in the afternoon preschool program and they're already looking to expand offerings next year.

"Having our very own spot to provide these services has really increased the effectiveness of our programming," Hume says, adding credit also goes to the district's dedicated staff. "We're really able to create a culture of learning that's very specific to our clientele."

Expansion a priority

District 197 has been focused on expanding its early learning services for several years because research shows giving students a head start puts them at an academic and social-emotional advantage.

"Research has shown that children who have preschool experience do better throughout their K-12 experience," Hume says.

In January, the school board voted to allow district administrators to pursue leased space in West St. Paul, where they could consolidate most existing early learning programs and add more as demands for these services continue to increase.

The relocation of existing early learning classrooms at Mendota and Moreland elementary schools and Friendly Hills middle School also freed up much-needed space for a K-12 enrollment that's been increasing since 2008.

With all of the district's early learning programs now consolidated at two locations — the new site in West St. Paul and Pilot Knob STEM Magnet Elementary School in Eagan — parents and administrators feel better positioned to meet preschoolers' needs.

The new site is within walking distance of several apartment buildings. Hume says the proximity to these families was certainly factored into the decision-making process, when planners began searching for a site.

Programs and services offered on site include early childhood special education classes, early childhood screening, community preschool for children ages 3 and 4, early childhood family education classes, and special classes for families with English as a second language.

Families living outside of District 197 are able to enroll in all programs. Preschool classes cost $143 or $205 per student, plus a $45 registration fee. There is, however, a sliding fee scale to help make these resources affordable to all families.

Enrollment for parents and children, from newborns to 5-year-olds, at the two sites has reached about 500 families, Hume says.

"I think having a designated space for early learning is really important," he says. "All of our equipment, furniture is child-friendly so parents feel a level of security when they come into the building."

The district signed a 10-year lease for the new site in West St. Paul and talks have already begun to add four classrooms next year, possibly expanding the number of days each week or the length of each day for certain preschoolers.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

 

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