In Stephanie Zappone’s preschool class, students stay busy. They are making pretend food with Play-Doh. Some are playing drums and other instruments. One is painting, some are building tall structures with blocks and others are working on their writing.
During class time they learn about pedestrian safety and classroom rules.
“We change the environment every couple of weeks,” Zappone said.
It’s a typical morning, but the building is new. The Early Learning Center opened to students Sept. 22 on the campus of Spokane Falls Community College, and it will be dedicated today.
“We really look at it as a gift to us,” Center Manager Bobbi Woodral said.
One of the preschool rooms is dedicated to Carol Landa-McVicker, a longtime member of the board of trustees and Head Start council liaison, who recently retired.
“Carol was a strong advocate for our programs,” Woodral said.
The $5.1 million, 15,177-square-foot building serves 89 Head Start students right now: 57 preschoolers, 24 toddlers and eight infants.
There are three preschool rooms for children ages 3 to 5. They include small chairs and tables, a sink set low to the ground for small children, and cubbies for coats and backpacks. Each classroom includes a lead teacher, assistant teacher and part-time teacher.
Two of the rooms are connected by adjoining bathrooms with tiny toilets and a food prep room for meal times.
The building was funded with $4.8 million in state capital funds, $167,000 in Institute for Extended Learning local campaign funds and $167,000 from SFCC. Construction began in June 2013.
In the infant room, three staff members spend time rocking and feeding the babies. The adults take off their shoes before they enter the play area. Cribs line one corner for naptime, and changing stations line the other.
Woodral said the center provides the babies with diapers, wipes and formula during the day.
The center mainly serves the children of students attending SFCC, although there are some children of students attending Spokane Community College. Admission is income-based, and many programs are offered for free to SFCC students who receive Pell grants.
Adela Castro is the cook in the building’s new kitchen. She has worked in the Early Learning Center for 21 years, cooking 125 meals for lunch and about 55 meals for breakfast and an afternoon snack. Meals are served family-style and teachers eat with the children in their classrooms.
“Everything is brand-new,” Castro said.
She proudly showed off her new stove, convection ovens, prep tables, hoods and counters. There are carts labeled with the teachers’ names and special dietary needs of students.
In the storage room, a heavy-duty fan forces air down from the top of the outside door to keep bugs out of the room while Castro accepts deliveries.
Woodral said the center works closely with parents. Before school starts for the year, staff members visit the families in their home to discuss goals. The center also provides families with resources such as housing and food banks.
“Parents are taught to be involved,” Woodral said.
She said during the school year, the center offers parents monthly meetings with lessons in CPR, wellness or whatever interests them. The meetings are held in the facility’s gross motor room, which also serves as an activity room for students when the weather is bad for recess.
Every inside door sounds a ping when it opens or closes. There is one outside entrance and it only unlocks with a security card, which is provided to the parents and staff. The fences along the playground also include security gates, and only staff members have the keys.
The architect and engineers were SPVV Landscape Architects, DCI Engineers and L&S Engineering. The general contractor was Meridian Construction.
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