Alliance Early Learning School Opens This School Year

April 01, 2010

Working in partnership, the Alliance City Schools, Mount Union College, Interfaith Child Development Center, the First Baptist Church Nursery School and Child Care Center have developed a vision and mission for a comprehensive approach to early childhood development and education in Alliance. The resulting organization is called Early Childhood Education Alliance, Inc. (ECEA, Inc.) which is a 501c3 organization which will serve as the umbrella organization guiding further study, development and implementation of programs for young children of Alliance and their families.

The mission is to create and staff a dynamic learning environment for children ages three through kindergarten. Leading the way in moving toward this mission is the Alliance City Schools that have recently developed the Alliance Early Learning School at South Lincoln School. Superintendent Steve Stohla said, 'The primary factor driving the center is academic, behavioral, and social benefits to the children.' South Lincoln School has been selected for the Alliance Early Learning School, and this gives the district the opportunity to centralize all preschool and kindergarten students with their teachers and their expertise. Mount Union College will provide an Early Childhood Learning lab in the building. 'Our education department has been long-time partners with the schools here in Alliance', said Linda Burkey, chairman of the Mount Union College education department. 'The development of the Early Learning Lab at South Lincoln and the increased contact with NAYEC accredited child development centers provides the opportunity to enrich our teacher candidates' experiences.'

In July of 2005 the Greater Alliance Foundation initiated discussion with educators at Mount Union College and the Alliance City Schools about increasing the scope of early childhood education in Alliance. To this end the Foundation has approved a grant of $46,000 to assist in funding initial start-up costs for the Early Learning School project.

Mike Ogline, Foundation trustee, said, 'We believe that the best investment we can make in Alliance is in its children. Our goal is to see the creation of an early childhood development program that will give Alliance children opportunities that are better than any that now exist in Ohio.'

A six-member board of trustees has been appointed by the city schools, college, and city to oversee operation of the center. Joseph French of North Canton has been hired to serve as fulltime Director.

Carol Canavan, president of the board of trustees, said 'We had an excellent response in searching for a director. However, Joe's experience proved to be exactly what we require.' French said, 'The key is a quality environment. Every child deserves the best, and it's good that adults are making it happen. I know it will be a huge success.'

French has expertise in securing grants to maintain the program. His office is at the Alliance Early Learning School .

Serving as trustees are Carol Canavan, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at Mount Union College who will serve ECEA, Inc. as president; Jan Webler, Director of Pupil Personnel Services at Alliance City Schools who will serve Secretary/Treasurer; Sheila Billheimer, Principal of the Alliance Early Learning School; Vincent Marion, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Alliance; Tom Pukys, President of the Alliance Area Development Foundation; and Shawn DiNarda Watters, a professor in the Mount Union College Department of Education.

Research has overwhelmingly shown that the most essential years in the development of a child's brain are from birth through age eight. This project is a positive move to make strategic changes in the way Alliance's youngest students are educated.

Young, low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, according to the New York Times. Across the nation only 15 percent of low income, fourth graders achieve proficiency in reading. Only about 41 percent of non poor fourth graders can read proficiently.

Providing educationally and developmentally sound early experiences for children could help solve this dilemma. It's a fact that children in high quality early childhood learning classes begin kindergarten socially and emotionally competent. They are more likely to stay in school, attend college, earn more money, and land a highly skilled job.

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