The block corner, the cozy area and the alone station. Penmanship won’t be stressed here, so there’s no need for lined paper.
Spruce Hill’s Parent Infant Center has taken a creative approach to early childhood education to build a premier program that believes itself to be an investment in a child’s future.
The parents and staff members at the Parent Infant Center firmly believe in the positive effects of quality child care and the results it can yield long after a student leaves the campus at 42nd and Spruce streets.
“This is what bases how they are as teenagers and adults,” said Kharma Hicks, the Parent Infant Center’s director of early learning. “We see a lot of the kids, the alumni, come back and visit. They’re in college and they come back and tell us how great of an experience it was.”
The Parent Infant Center was founded in 1978 by The University of Pennsylvania before it became a nonprofit organization the following year. Along with early learning programs, the center offers after-school programs, playgroups and a summer camp.
Hicks said the center’s staff uses different styles of teachings that make children want to learn. The teachers follow the center’s Creative Curriculum and also the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s curriculum of Learning Through Play. Each classroom is equipped with a lead teacher, an assistant teacher and several classroom assistants.
“It’s a unique program,” Hicks said. “It focuses on the teacher’s role and the family’s role throughout the classroom and throughout the daily activities. It’s meant to make the children flourish and also challenge them in certain areas.”
A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Workplace Center said that early childhood education has both short and long term economic benefits.
In the short term, the study reported that early childhood education creates nearly three million jobs, employs people who spend wages and pay taxes, and creates centers which purchase goods and services. In the long term, it lowers welfare payments, lowers criminal justice and prison costs and creates better job preparedness and the ability to meet future labor force demands.
Lisa Falcone said her 4-year-old daughter’s development at the Parent Infant Center has grown by “leaps and bounds.” Falcone’s daughter, Nina, learned to walk at the center and improved her speech and worked on her social skills, such as learning how to share. Falcone said the center has a great rapport with the neighborhood and everyone raves about it.
“The one thing that really strikes me about the classroom is that everyone is very calm and very secure,” Falcone said.
The MIT study said that for each dollar invested in quality early care, a taxpayer saves $13 in future costs. It proposed a universal early childhood care plan that would serve all 3- and 4-year-olds in the country and cost $50 billion. But over the next 40 years the program would create over $213 billion in value for a net gain of $163 billion.
Currently, the study reported that families foot 58 percent of the bill for early care and education. Government pays 40 percent and the private sector holds 2 percent.
A universal plan would require a higher investment from both the government and private sector. In order to finance it, the plan suggested government-provided direct services, government-paid providers, income tax credits and school vouchers that would allow parents to purchase services.
“All the research shows that the greatest success in life starts from your earliest years,” said Rachel Crossot, the Parent Infant Center’s director of development. “So if you invest in early child care and kids go to a top center, where they are getting nurturing and education, love and they have a safe environment, they are destined to do well.”
A 2008 report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization took a world view on the impact of early childhood education. The study reported that there is a clear link between early childhood education and sustainable development. It stated that early childhood education is built on three pillars: economy, environment, and sociocultural phenomena.
In order for these pillars to positively affect sustainability, the study recommended that society increases its investments in early childhood care and expand access to quality care. Also, it said to strengthen teacher training and to recognize the strengths of early childhood pedagogies. The Parent Infant Center does both of those.
Hicks said that the teaching styles and curriculum at the Parent Infant Center are constantly adapting to the advancements in early learning. The center follows the National Association for the Education of Young Children guidelines and was awarded a prestigious four-star ranking by Pennsylvania’s Keystone Stars Program.
The association calls for excellence in early childhood education and believes that quality care should be accessible for all families. The Parent Infant Center helps make its programs accessible by awarding tuition scholarships to families with financial needs.
“It’s very hard for a lot of families to afford tuition at any center,” Crossot said. “And these are young families, working families, so it’s very important to us that we increase the access to quality child care.”