“It was almost impossible to find anything. We were on six waiting lists at six different daycares and preschools,” says Renuka Ghandi, whose experience finding care for her two year old son isn’t uncommon.
According to state and city data, there are 7,000 children between birth and age 5 in New Haven but only 2,300 have access to early care and preschool.
“We realized we had to do something to start our children on a stronger footing, stronger foundation,” says Schiavone, a founding member of NH ChILD, a new program to provide access to high quality learning for all of New Haven’s 15,000 children, age 0 to 8.
A one million dollar grant is jumpstarting the first phase of the initiative – providing 2500 new, affordable spots for children in need of early education.
“In order to expand the program, we need to create twenty new centers in New Haven,” explains Schiavone, noting locations like The Friends Center for Children are expanding to accommodate more kids.
According to Schiavone, if a child who suffers from trauma – caused by poverty or racism – doesn’t receive early education, the result can be dire: “The long term impacts are staggering – things like suicide attempts, drug use, early pregnancy, divorce, incarceration.”
Preschool promotes trial and error, fostering kids’ senses of curiosity and resilience. Ghandi’s son now attends The Friends Center.
“He’s growing so much, so rapidly,” she says. “It’s children who are experimenting on their own and verbalizing questions. Vocabulary is built,” adds teacher Kathleen Giglio.
“This work is about shifting the way we, as a city, support families,” says Schaivone who hopes that eventually children who are born in New Haven will become enrolled in the system for automatic access to early care and education. “So that families can feel that their children are well cared for, that they have joy everyday, that they love learning and it’s a foundation for all future endeavors.”
The Friends Center for Children will open one – or two – new locations next September. This is part of a $50 million dollar NH ChILD initiative taking place over the next ten years.
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