Two hundred youngsters will have a new place to go for quality early childhood education come 2009. Today, work will begin on an Educare center in Oklahoma City. The facility will help children from birth through age 5 to develop their social and educational skills, and strengthen their families at the same time. The center is coming together through the collaboration of several major players in the community, including the Inasmuch Foundation, Sunbeam Family Services, the Community Action Agency, which runs Head Start, and Oklahoma City Public Schools. None could start Educare on their own, project leaders said. There already is an Educare center in Tulsa, and this one will make Oklahoma the first state to have two. In addition to the community organizations, founding donors include the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Aubrey and Katie McClendon, Tom and Sch’ree Ward, the Susan A. Buffett Foundation, the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation, the Potts Family Foundation, George and Nancy Records, and the Kirkpatrick Fam- ily Fund. The Garrett family though Garrett and Company LLC donated the land, on the corner of Byers Avenue and SE Grand Boulevard in Oklahoma City.United Way of Central Oklahoma also is contributing toward the center’s operations. About Educare The first Educare was opened in Chicago in 2000, largely by a man named Irving Harris. There are five others in the nation and one more, besides the one in Oklahoma City, being planned. All were started by local philanthropists or philanthropic organizations. Tulsa’s main donor, George Kaiser, pledged $1 million to help get the southeast Oklahoma City center started. The flagship elements of the program involve highly qualified and highly paid teachers, and low student-teacher ratios. There will be no more than eight children in every birth-toage-3 classroom. Each of those classrooms will have an adult with a bachelor’s degree in childhood education for every four students, plus a classroom aide, said Ray Bitsche, executive director of Sunbeam Family Services and president of Oklahoma City Educare. There will be no more than 16 children in every 3-to-5-year-old classroom. Each of those classrooms will have two adults, including one degreed teacher, he said. In addition, an experienced teacher with a master’s degree in early childhood education will supervise four classrooms and provide additional direction for those adults. The teachers will be paid the same as public school teachers, which is more than early childhood educators typically earn, Bitsche said. The site will serve 200 children: 64 for those birth to 3 years, and 136 for those 3 to 5 years old. Some of the students will come from existing programs and waiting lists at Sunbeam and Head Start. What also makes Educare stand out from other early childhood centers is the way it will integrate community involvement. “This is not a program where they can drop off their child in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon,” Bitsche said. Parents must agree to set goals as a family, participate in programs on campus and reinforce classwork at home. “It will require that some families make changes in their lives,” he said. The children, who will come from homes with entrenched social problems such as poverty, will grow through play, games, music and art. Brooke Salmans, who has taught at the Tulsa Educare since it opened in 2006, said curriculum development also is unique. It’s based on individualization, she said. “If we were supposed to talk about leaves one week and an airplane flies overhead at recess and the kids won’t stop talking about the airplane — leaves (are) out, airplanes are in. The kids take control,” she said. Educare needs $10.5 million for its capital budget — the building and an endowment for future maintenance needs; and a little more than $3.1 million to operate annually — mostly because of the staff expense, said Bob Ross, CEO of the Inasmuch Foundation and chairman of Oklahoma City Educare. Educare’s forecasted revenue is just above $3 million, leaving a $93,000 operating deficit that the area agencies are working to raise. Educare also is about $3.2 million short of meeting its goal for the capital budget. Educare supporters said they hope the center empowers children. “We want to see kids who come from high risk circumstances to start school healthy and prepared to compete with any other child at the same grade level, as opposed to today where children start school with so many deficiencies,” Bitsche said. Ross said it just makes common sense to prepare children for kindergarten. “We think we’re preparing these kids and providing a service to them that will enable them to achieve long-term success,” Ross said. Sunbeam will begin taking applications for enrollment in late 2008, Ross said.
Work will begin today on the new Educare center, shown in this illustration. The center is expected to open in January 2009. PROVIDED ILLUSTRATION