Great learning space is a right, not a privilege

Several years ago, I worked at the Harvard Children’s Initiative (HCI), a former interdisciplinary center that brought faculty together from across Harvard’s education, public health and government schools to focus on cross-cutting children’s issues, such as healthy development, literacy and mental health. One project focused on assessing the quality of early literacy Reggio emilia instruction and resources in Boston early childhood education programs. To conduct this assessment, we arranged site visits to several Boston early learning centers. A delegation from a French social and education policy institute invited to HCI at the time asked if they could come along on these site visits.

After the site visits, we sat down to debrief with our team and the French delegation. Our agenda was to review in what ways the centers we toured were supporting early literacy.  The French delegation threw out this agenda. They were horrified at the physical locations and conditions of the centers we saw that morning. Some were in basements, some had no or little natural light, the air quality was poor, the playgrounds were asphalt and undersized.  In one setting, mold was visible on rugs and furniture. “Most, if not all, of these programs would be shut down immediately in France,” they argued. Their point: before you focus on particular learning content areas, you have to create the optimal conditions for learning. These learning conditions should not be a privilege for a few children, but a right for all children.

Fast forward to last week. Wheelock hosted Wayne Ysaguirre (President and CEO) and Ron Ancrum (Executive Director of the new Learning Center at Bromley Heath) from Associated Early Care and Education . Wayne and Ron shared plans for Associated’s new $16 million, state-of-the-art early learning and community center , set to open in January 2014 in the Bromley-Heath housing development in Jamaica Plain. Every design element of this new Reggio Emilia informed center is focused on sparking children’s learning and development— from abundant natural light, accessible outdoor play and learning spaces and gardens, to performance areas and art studios, to sight lines and common spaces that create a sense of community. Wayne and Ron were clear: this is what all children deserve.

It might be time to bring back the French delegation.

Plans for the new early learning center

Jake Murray has served as the director of Aspire since February 2009. Prior to joining Aspire, he served for four years as a child and youth planner for the City of Cambridge, overseeing strategic planning, quality improvement, and program development for early education, out-of-school-time, and youth development services. He also served for five years as a director of community partnerships for the Harvard Children’s Initiative, leading a range of collaborative efforts to improve education outcomes in Boston and Cambridge. His research interests include professional learning models, new teacher development, and school-community partnerships.