A massive new early learning complex opened in Flint, MI, on Dec. 4 to serve 220 kids ranging in age from 2 months to 5 years. Parents, educators, and public officials seem to agree that the $15 million Educare Flint facility checks off all the boxes on their wish lists, and then some – small class sizes, high teacher-to-student ratios, deep parental involvement opportunities, nutrition programs, rooms packed with age-appropriate learning toys, best-practice “tiny toilets,” a beautiful natural light atrium, a parent center, theater, STEM learning lab, and an astonishing attention to detail in every reading nook and playground cranny.
“Design matters. The quality of this building matters. Not just because of the interests of the kids that it will serve, but because it sends a powerful message about our community’s commitment to these precious young lives,” said Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-5) at the grand opening.
Brianna Chisem, a parent of a 3-month-old Educare Flint child, told the grand opening crowd: “This is what my child deserves – a wonderful building with a great staff. Every child in Flint should be able to experience something like this.”
Ridgway White couldn’t agree more. He’s the president of the C.S. Mott Foundation, a national philanthropic institution based in Flint with a long history of investing in Flint’s education system. The Mott Foundation contributed $11 million toward the project.
“This project is based on a deep belief at the Mott Foundation that Flint children deserve the best,” White said. “Since the earliest days at the foundation, we’ve had a focus on education, especially in our home community of Flint. In the wake of the water crisis, we learned that increasing access to quality early childhood education was one of the most important things we could do.”
During the 2014-15 Flint water crisis, more than 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in drinking water. Lead exposure can be harmful to young children whose brains are developing. High-quality early childhood education is seen as an important intervention measure, but several speakers underscored that Educare Flint now has a broader purpose.
“The seeds of this school may have been planted during the water crisis, but your commitment and dedication to high-quality early learning for young children and families will benefit the community for generations to come,” said Cynthia Jackson, a senior vice president with Educare Learning Network, the umbrella agency that guides Educare Flint’s curriculum and strategy. “Your city is a model for the nation of how, with the right investments, we can deliver on the great American promise of equal opportunity. Everyone deserves a fair chance to achieve their dreams, and it starts by leveling the playing field from the day we’re all born.”
In addition to the 220 children served directly by the new facility, Educare Flint will also provide professional development opportunities for other child care and education providers – from large centers and family providers to grandparents taking care of their grandkids. What’s more, Educare Flint will also provide adult learning opportunities for parents – everything from casual courses related to gardening, financial literacy, and nutrition, to more intense cohorts working toward learning special skills or earning certifications.
All this took less than a year to achieve. According to Jackson, no other Educare facility – there are 23 throughout the nation – has moved into position that quickly, but it happened in part because of the strength of the partnerships in Flint. Major project contributors include: Genesee Intermediate School District, which operates the facility; State of Michigan, which provides the bulk of day-to-day funding for operations; Community Foundation of Greater Flint, whose supporting organization Flint Kids Learn owns the facility; and additional partners and funders such as Buffet Early Childhood Fund, Educare Learning Network, Flint Community Schools, Michigan State University, Ounce of Prevention Fund, Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, University of Michigan-Flint, and Uptown Reinvestment Corporation.
The Mott Foundation provided $11 million toward the $15 million facility. PNC Bank was the New Markets Tax Credits investor, with allocations coming from IFF ($7 million), LISC ($5.65 million), and Consortium America ($3.15 million).
As Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said: “We know it’s going to take people from this community to get us through these issues and challenges. But we sure have appreciated the outside help as well.”