10.24 2019

Friends Center opens new site in West Rock neighborhood

Friends Center for Children is expanding!

Spurred by New Haven’s overwhelming need for more access to high-quality early childhood education, and knowing the difference that this type of care can make in the life of a child, Friends Center remains committed to reaching new neighborhoods. In fact, our current and planned expansions span the map of New Haven.

On the east side, we’ve grown our main center to full capacity. In fall 2019, launched a satellite program that brings high-quality early childhood education to 34 children and their families in New Haven’s West Rock neighborhood, near Beaver Hills.  Friends Center Blake Street offers two infant/toddler classrooms, one preschool classroom, nine teachers, and Friends Center’s proven emotional wellbeing program and child-centered curriculum.

In the northwest, plans progress for a new center on Dixwell Avenue, one that will nearly double Friends Center’s overall reach and capacity. We also remain committed to another expansion opportunity with the Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church.

For all of our existing and upcoming expansions, we know that successful growth depends on strong and strategic connections. Fueled by generous donors and great partners — such as Elm City Montessori, Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church and ConnCorp — we look forward to bringing high-quality early childhood care and education experiences to children in the West Rock and  Dixwell areas of New Haven.

10.1 2019

Why do we connect?

From before our first breath, we are connected; dependent on umbilical cords and blood ties. As we grow, these connections expand. “Bonds of friendship” develop. We may become “attached at the hip,” “band together,” or embark on “joint ventures.” Psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers have proclaimed the critical importance of relationships to our health, development and overall wellbeing. But when it comes to what we do here at Friends Center for Children, why do connections matter so much? Connections educate us; they empower, inspire and engage us; they help us to understand and embrace each other and the world around us. It is no coincidence that these very verbs activate our mission: educate children, empower families, inspire teachers, engage community, embrace diversity.

Connections are the common thread in our commitment to high-quality early childhood education. Throughout all aspects of our program — from our values-based curriculum and comprehensive emotional wellbeing program, to our parent workshops and community events — we work to strengthen and support the relationships that are critical to learning and life.

9.15 2019

Joining forces to make New Haven a model for quality and access in ECE

New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NH ChILD) is a vision, a movement, an imperative that relies deeply on connections — one where educators, organizations, municipalities, families and community members all work together to give all 15,000 children in New Haven, ages 0 – 8, access to high-quality early learning experiences called “Ideal Learning.”

As a champion of ideal learning and equity in access to it, Friends Center has helped lead the charge towards making NH ChILD a reality. Empowered by the expertise and contributions of early childhood leaders, advisors, and donors — including a million dollar gift from a Stones Throw Foundation — the work is well under way.

In the spring of 2019, NH ChILD hired Dr. Wendy Waithe Simmons as its first Executive Director. Dr. Simmons is a psychologist and educator with more than 25 years of experience in service to children and families. “I believe that all children deserve to have multiple pathways toward success. I am proud to be a part of an organization that values equity, community, collaboration, and children and their families. I will work diligently to ensure that every child in New Haven has access to high-quality early learning experiences. I understand that when children have a strong start in life, they can dream big dreams. They can follow their passions and interests — no matter where they may lead. I am thrilled to have a role in making that a reality.”

NH ChILD invites collaboration among all stakeholders within the New Haven community to develop shared solutions bringing high-quality early care and education to all children in New Haven.

Working with the Office of the Mayor, New Haven Public Schools, Yale School of Medicine, Bank Street College of Education, New Haven Housing Authority, United Way and many other partners, NH ChILD has set a bold agenda:

  • Access to sufficient high quality infant/toddler and preschool spaces to meet family demand;
  • Simplify the ECE application process to a single point of entry;
  • Design a sustainable public funding source so that families pay what they can afford;
  • Promote family engagement; and
  • Develop continuous professional learning experiences and ECE career pathways for educators.
9.1 2019

No “please.”

“Please” and Other Ways of Gaining Cooperation
by Margaret Berge, Friends Center Social Work Intern

It is ingrained in us by society to use a polite “please” when asking for cooperation. The problem with this is that “please” isn’t honest or correct. It conveys a choice when there isn’t one. This can be confusing to young children, and even to adults.
Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring being purposeful with my language choices. The exact way that we phrase things makes a huge impact on how our messages are received.

For example, rather than saying, “Please go hang up that coat,” we can say, “Let’s go hang up the coat. I’ll go with you.” This is more direct and cooperative. Also, using contractions when appropriate helps make the communication more relaxed.

The attached pdf demonstrates my process toward being mindful and intentional about my phrasing choices.

For me, the exploration started with an interaction I recorded with a child in December 2018. Upon reviewing it, I became aware that I said, “please” a lot. A LOT. This started me on an exploration of what the word means, and what it implies. “Please” is certainly intended to be polite, modeling good manners. And it does these things. It also conveys the idea to the person you are talking to that your message is a request — one that they can either comply with, or not.

This awareness led me to consider phrases that I could use instead of please, which could convey the message I wanted to send without the ambiguity. I began to notice all the times I said “please” to friends and what we were doing in that moment. I thought about how I could reword it, and wrote a list of what I actually said, and ways I thought I could have said it better. I then went over that list with a fine tooth comb and refined it again, really digging deep into each word and message: what was intended, and what a child might hear. Did they really get the message? What was confusing? What was simple? What was difficult? And then I refined it again.

I’m still practicing applying these phrases, and finding that they are sometimes successful and sometimes not. But as I practice, this way of communicating becomes more naturally and consistently. And I say “please” far less often than when I started, with better results.

I’ve learned that when I change the ways that I frame the interactions with children, I am also changing the nature of my relationships. I started out in a place that was directive, yet passive. I was an adult asking them to comply with my wishes. By changing the ways that I phrase my words, I am able to be direct and keep the interaction calm, relaxed, and natural. In the end, the child cooperates, usually. This often can diffuse a situation with a child before it gets to a point where they feel stressed. My more mindful choices also allow space for the child to feel fully seen and understood. This helps a more meaningful relationship to develop between us.

5.24 2019

How to End the Child-Care Crisis

By Shael Polakow-Suransky
The New York Times

Twenty-five years ago, the Carnegie Corporation released “Starting Points,” a report that described the lack of child care for infants and toddlers as a “quiet crisis.” It painted a bleak picture of overwhelmed families, persistent poverty, inadequate health care and child care of such poor quality that it threatened young children’s intellectual and emotional development.

Unlike most reports of this kind, “Starting Points” helped build momentum for new programs like Early Head Start in 1994 and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997. They offer critical support for children and families, but little has changed for the better since then. Today 21 percent of children under 3 live in poverty. The United States is the only industrialized country without paid family leave. The percentage of working mothers has increased from 50 percent to 70 percent, but according to the National Institutes of Health, just 10 percent of our child-care settings provide high-quality care.

This lack of affordable quality child care is a crisis for American families. In 35 states, families pay more for child care than for mortgages, and in no state does the average cost of infant or toddler care meet the federal definition of affordable. On a per-capita basis, we spend roughly six times less on education for infants and toddlers than we do on K-12. This shortchanges our children exactly when the potential benefit is greatest.

We know from breakthroughs in neuroscience that children’s brains are growing explosively during the first three years of life — developing more than one million neural connections a second. A child’s early brain architecture shapes all future learning and behavior. This is also the period in our lives when we are most vulnerable to trauma. Experiences like homelessness, forced family separation or exposure to violence inhibit a child’s ability to learn and form trusting relationships. By 24 months, many toddlers living in poverty show both behavioral and cognitive delays. Equally powerful, though, is the impact of an attuned parent or teacher who understands how to build loving, responsive relationships that can stimulate learning and repair the damage done by trauma.

In exemplary early-learning environments, children explore a rich range of materials and make choices as part of carefully planned routines. At the water table, a 2-year-old girl smears her arms with purple paint while a 1-year-old boy watches intently from a teacher’s lap before toddling over to investigate. Nearby, a teacher reads a book about dolphins as two girls take turns looking at the pictures and discuss what noises dolphins make when they are sad. Across the room, a baby crawls after a ball and his mother says: “Yes, you found a ball. That ball can roll.” In each instance, the adult comments on the child’s exploration in language that connects to the child’s interests and signals to the child that what she does matters. These relationships and experiences accelerate brain development and are the foundation for academic success when children enter school.

5.6 2019

Pinwheels Along The Path

By Ross Doutha
photos by Ian Christmann

A forest of pinwheels, spinning in the spring air, sprang up along the Quinnipiac River on Saturday morning to guide hundreds of children, families, and friends on a 1.5-mile stroll around the Quinnipiac’s bridges.

With Mayor Toni Harp in the vanguard, the marchers were lending their support to high-quality early childhood education, as part of the ninth annual Fair Haven Family Stroll and Festival.

Created by a partnership between the Friends Center for Children, led by Executive Director Allyx Schiavone, and the Elm City Montessori School, led by Principal Julia Webb and Executive Director Eliza Halsey, the festival has grown every year since its inception.

This year, 1,366 people filled Quinnipiac River Park to play, dance, hang out, and learn. For the kids, there were activities like face painting, bubbles, parachute play, arts and crafts, and more.

For their parents and other adults from the community, there were resources offered by over three dozen community organizations in attendance, including Fair Haven Community Health Center, New Haven Public Library, Neighborhood Music School, Read to Grow, the Peabody Museum, and ConnCAT.

This mix of pleasure and purpose was the idea behind the festival from the start. It’s grown into a big three-hour neighborhood party, where kids and their families can patronize food trucks and enjoy loads of live entertainment. This year’s acts included Magic with Amazing Andy, Zumba Kids with Rosemary, VIVACE- a teen string musical group, Drumming with Gammy, a children’s dance troupe called S.W.A.G., and the Blue Steel Drumline from Southern Connecticut State University.

Read full article on New Haven Independent
4.22 2019

Friends Center featured on News 8 for NH ChILD

By Sarah Cody

NH ChILD: Initiative to provide access to early education for more New Haven kids

“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.

“There’s just an extreme shortage for families looking for care,” explains Allyx Schiavone, Director of The Friends Center for Children.

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.

3.22 2019

“Experts: More Play Needed in New Haven Schools”

By Brian Zahn
New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN — All work and no play makes the city’s youngest children unprepared to learn in school, or so said dozens of experts, parents and students.

At a Board of Alders Education Committee meeting Wednesday on the role of play in early childhood education, school district officials acknowledged that classrooms could be doing more.

“We’re building an approach and a philosophy that hasn’t completely come into play quite yet, but we are very hopeful,” said New Haven Deputy Superintendent of Schools Ivelise Velazquez. “Because a lot of our planning is happening with a new superintendent and a new group of leaders, there’s a lot of emphasis on preschool.”

Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks began in her role in March 2018. The district has not yet hired a full-time assistant superintendent that would oversee early childhood programs.

The committee held a hearing on the importance of play in education up to third grade. Velazquez and other district officials said the schools are foregrounding equity in their mission to introduce play into school curriculum.

“Next year is our year of looking at curriculum; not just curriculum in preschool, but that continuum up to third grade,” she said.

Members of the community said the district has not done enough, and play is missing from schools.

“When I went to kindergarten, everything changed,” said Christopher Columbus Family Academy third grader Pablo Cruz. “All we did was study; we didn’t have any time to play except one short recess. It was too much.”

Gary Highsmith, a finalist for the superintendency in 2017, said when he was principal of Beecher School in 2002 he was tasked with improving academic achievement in the youngest grades.

“I felt the best way to do it was to decrease recess. I wanted early learners to spend more time on academics,” he said.

He said he eventually began to regret the decision as he realized children learn through play.

“Developmentally appropriate learning, play and rigor are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “It’s not whether we have this or that, but how we can get this and that.”

A slew of local experts presented on the importance of play to cognitive development in young learners.

“Children construct knowledge from diverse experiences to make meaning of the world,” said Allyx Schiavone, executive director of the Friends Center for Children.

She argued that the “tension” between play and testing is misguided.

“Play-based learning actually creates preparation for testing,” she said.

10.1 2018

What helps us grow?

Whether you are a parent, advisor, educator, donor, partner, caregiver, or community member who cares about the education of our youngest children, you help Friends Center for Children grow!

We learn and grow best from each other, from relationships that embrace, encourage and sometimes challenge us. Your involvement and support helps us grow as individuals — children, families and educators — and as a program. Because of you, Friends Center is excited to enter a new season of growth, to extend our roots and expand our branches as we strive to meet the continued need for high-quality early care and education in the New Haven area.

READ our 2017-2018 Report