New early education center provides only mixed-income, Reggio Emilia approach new St. Louis July 4, 2017

Urban Sprouts Child Development Center doesn’t look like a typical daycare facility – and that’s because it’s not.

“This is not daycare. This is education,” says Steve Stenger, the St. Louis County Executive, whose office is providing full scholarships for 70 students. “The statistics are startling for the difference this space will make in children’s lives.”

According to the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a child without an early childhood education is 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teenage parent, 60 percent more likely to never attend college, and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Early childhood education is for kids ages 3-6.

Urban Sprouts provides the only mixed-income Reggio Emilia model for early education in Missouri and has expanded to accommodate 135 students – almost double the previous number. The Center’s new facility also expands access to subsidized child care from 35 children to 75 children within a Federal Promise Zone and a New Markets Tax Credits highly distressed census tract.

“There’s a social justice issue here,” says IFF’s David Desai-Ramirez, executive director of IFF’s St. Louis office. “There are thousands and thousands of kids that still don’t have access to this. We can’t stop. We have to have a sense of urgency. We have to keep going.”

The state-of-the-art center includes learning studios, water rooms, light and shadow rooms, a clay and kiln-firing room, three large classrooms (one each for infants, toddlers, and pre-kindergartners), and a piazza where children, teachers, and parents can gather and learn. These spaces were designed to support the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning, which emphasizes natural curiosity of children as well as the importance of an open learning environment that helps to promote collaboration.

At the June 8 ribbon-cutting ceremony, several speakers emphasized the collaborative nature of the project, which involved corporate and foundation partners, community development financial institutions, private investors, county funding, and support from local architects and civic leaders. IFF provided a $2 million allocation of New Market Tax Credits toward the project as well as extensive real estate consulting on the 15,000-square-foot build-out of a former spice factory.

“Pulling together the long financial documents was probably the toughest thing I’ve done,” says Ellicia Qualls, founder and executive director of Urban Sprouts. “Borrowing $2.5 million and raising $250,000 to make this project work has not been an easy feat. IFF held my feet to the fire, and I really thank them for that challenge.”

“We are so proud to have led the financing and development of Urban Sprouts. This has been such a great, all-hands-on-deck community effort that would not have been possible without deep contributions by so many great individuals and organizations,” Desai-Ramirez says. “IFF got its start helping nonprofits to plan, build, and finance high-quality early childhood facilities. Helping make this new center a reality for the University City community takes us back to our roots and represents some of the most important work we do.”