9.25 2021

“Let’s Talk” series welcomes Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro as inaugural speaker

On September 15, Friends Center welcomed Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro as the inaugural speaker of our 2021-2022 Let’s Talk! virtual series of discussions about the federal, state and city advocacy and planning around early childhood education infrastructure and sustainability and the implications on children, families and society.

116 people joined the live conversation!

Please click on the link below to view this important discussion, where Rosa reminds us all the time is NOW to and make our voices heard to ensure the Child Tax Act and universal pre-K become permanent social security measures for our families and children.

 

 

Watch the Conversation
2.19 2021

Not (just) a Season of Lovingkindness

Isn’t this the month of hearts and flowers? The month of Black history? But what if U.S. history were a story rendered honestly that we could reckon with throughout our whole schooling and lifetime? And what if lovingkindness is not just a sentiment, but a practice that we intentionally weave into our every day?

At Friends Center, rather than designate particular days or months for celebrations, we aim to create an environment where, every day, each member of the community is held with respect. We work to cultivate a climate where we notice the biases we feel, see, hear and act, and address them with each other in a brave, clear and kind way. We seek to learn how we unknowingly participate in systemic patterns of inequities, and how we can meet the challenges of undoing them. This is the position from which lovingkindness flows.

Read more on our email newsletter
1.21 2021

Friends Center for Children Launches Free Teacher Housing Initiative

By Maggie Prendergast

Long before the pandemic struck, Friends Center for Children had been wrestling with the issue of inadequate compensation for infant and preschool teachers. One potential solution, a Friends Center Teacher Housing Initiative, captured the attention of two long-time FCfC supporters, Greg Melville, a member of New Haven Friends Meeting, and his wife, Susan Fox, who pledged $750,000 to purchase two homes in New Haven to provide free housing to an initial group of Friends Center teachers.

“We consider early childhood educators to be ‘essential workers’ and key to the healthy development of the next generation, and we know that most do not earn enough from their teaching job to afford to live in New Haven,” said Fox and Melville. “By helping to provide FCfC teachers with safe, affordable housing, we hope to further a model of innovative housing solutions equal to the Center’s bold, educational vision,” they noted.

Both of the houses are within walking distance of Friends Center’s East Grand site, with one offering single family living and the other multi-family capacity. One teacher and her young son joyfully moved into her new multi-family home at the end of December 2020. The other teacher happily followed shortly thereafter. The third unit will house another teacher and her young son in May. The second home, a single family dwelling, provides housing for a teacher and her two children who moved in mid-January. Both properties have been updated and made comfortable and safe for their new and extraordinarily grateful occupants. A second phase of this program hopes to create 12-19 additional teacher housing units when funding becomes available.

The Friends Center Teacher Housing Initiative offers rent-free housing to Friends Center teachers whose situations warrant this help. These teachers use rent savings to pay off school or personal loans and work toward financial independence. Friends Center provides fiscal coaching and goal setting for its teacher tenants, who can live rent free from one to five years depending on need.

Allyx Schiavone, executive director of Friends Center, explains, “Providing free housing to our teachers is not a bonus or a privilege. It is our attempt to counterbalance a system designed to marginalize an under-resourced and overburdened industry. We believe that bold measures are needed to change the status quo. We are exceptionally grateful that the Melvilles see the true value of early care and education teachers and are willing to work with us creatively to improve the model of compensation.”

Friends Center for Children is an independent early childhood education center in New Haven serving children from three months to five years old. Founded in 2007 by members of the New Haven Friends Meeting to address the critical shortage in high-quality early childhood education opportunities. FCfC currently serves 122 infant and preschool children in two New Haven locations, with multiple additional sites in the planning stage. FCfC families and teachers are representative of New Haven’s communities and cross all racial, ethnic and income spectrums.

For more information, contact: Tanya Shively (tshively@friendscenterforchildren.org; (203.468.1966) to schedule a meeting with Allyx Schiavone, Executive Director of Friends Center for Children.

Friends Center teacher Kristen Calderon and her son enjoy new proximity to work and river views in their Front Street apartment, one of three units that will offer teachers rent-free housing as a part of Friend Center’s teacher Housing Plan. Photo by Ian Christmann

 

One of Friends Center’s first teacher houses — a picture-perfect single family on Howard Street — will soon be a rent-free home to a preschool teacher and her family as part of Friend Center’s teacher Housing Plan— an innovative solution to provide much-needed increases in teacher compensation without increasing tuition costs for high-quality early childhood care. Photos by Ian Christmann

BACKGROUND INFORMATION Friends Center for Children

Friends Center for Children’s core mission is: Educate Children, Empower Families, Inspire Teachers, Engage Community, Embrace Diversity. The program provides high-quality early childhood education to children who represent New Haven’s diverse communities; families are drawn from all racial, ethnic and income spectrums. Friends Center utilizes a sliding scale tuition system. Parents pay 12% of their gross income, capped at the true cost of care. Annual expenses exceed annual income by an average of $220,000 a year, which limits the program’s ability to raise teacher salaries to pay parity with elementary public-school teachers, a long- standing goal of the program.

Early Childhood Educators

Early childhood educators, 98 percent of whom are female, are among the front-line workers who are egregiously under compensated. The average yearly salary of early childhood teachers is $28,000 for infant/toddler caregivers and $39,000 for preschool teachers, well below the cost of living. These essential workers’ salaries belie the importance of early childhood education and further marginalize an already oft-marginalized population. Subsidized housing is a first step in helping to acknowledge the importance and value of these teachers.

The true cost of high-quality care in New Haven is $23,000 for infants/toddlers and $16,000 for preschool. Through a variety of programs, the state of Connecticut subsidizes these programs at 50% of the true cost of care, and this gap shifts the balance of program cost onto families. Since most New Haven families are unable to pay actual costs, these early childhood programs operate at 50% of true cost. As a result, early childhood education teacher salaries are significantly underfunded. If fiscal value determined industry norms, state funding would match the true cost of care, and these teachers would not be grossly undervalued – and underpaid.

“The Early Care and Education Funding System is sexist, racist and broken. We ask women, predominantly black and brown women, to care for and educate the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society, and we compensate them at levels that perpetuate poverty.”

Allyx Schiavone

1.11 2021

What is essential?

For many, the question of “what is essential?” has provoked new examination and appreciation of the things and people we rely on. At Friends Center, teachers are essential! To prove it, we exceed industry norms for compensation.* Paying women to live in poverty does not do justice to the importance of early childhood education. In fact, it undermines the essential role that educators play in a child’s early life. We believe we must do more to promote the fiscal livelihood of our teachers.

Read more in our January e-newsletter
1.10 2020

Happy New Year!

Uncrumple That Drawing!
Rhoda Kellogg and the Misunderstanding of Child Art

From the first time she observed very young children joyfully making scribbles, Rhoda Kellogg knew that humans are born with a natural capacity for making art. Where others saw meaningless marks, Rhoda saw whole, complete and beautiful compositions. “No child need fail to develop in art if teachers can learn to appreciate the gestalts of scribblings. Only free scribbling and drawing become work that is integrated in each individual’s mind.”

So important are these earliest stages of visual communication that she spent over 60 years dedicated to the empirical demonstration that all humans are born with this innate artistic capacity. Art is in our biology.

Her classroom practices were founded on the premise that children teach themselves in art. “Creative expression must always be motivated from within, not without.” She asserted that the neuromuscular processes exercised during free, self-directed early scribbling foster not only aesthetics, but the hand-eye-brain systems needed for language, literacy and self-esteem.

 

Read more in our January 2020 newsletter
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.

READ ARTICLE
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
WTNH

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.

READ MORE ON WTNH
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.

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5.10 2018

From Piling Scrap to Bridging the Achievement Gap

By Carolyn Christmann
New Haven Independent

In the 1960s, as the site of the Schiavone scrap yard, iron, steel and cranes filled the acres between Front Street and the Quinnipiac River. Decades later, the once-derelict land has become a riverside park, and every spring a new generation of Schiavone helps fill it with fun, community and a great cause. Each May, the Friends Center for Children, led by director Allyx Schiavone, partners with Elm City Montessori School to throw a massive party in the park with a mission to promote high-quality early childhood education.

In its 8th year, the annual Fair Haven Family Stroll & Festival continues to grow in size and impact. This year, more than a thousand people joined the festivities, which raised more than $15,000 to increase awareness and access to developmentally-appropriate early care and education.

“This festival is about honoring the need for high-quality early care and education for all children in our community,” said Schiavone. “Providing access to high-quality early childhood programs for families of all economic levels is critical for addressing New Haven’s drastic achievement gap. And it’s critical to start early. Ninety percent of all brain development occurs before the age of five! Ninety percent! The impact of high-quality early care and education on the individual and the community is huge. For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we see a $7-$13 return. We also see decreased drop out rates, decreased juvenile detention rates, decreased teen pregnancy rates, increased college graduation rates and earning potential — all from attending high-quality early care and education programs. Those of us who work to make the Fair Haven Family Stroll and Festival happen see the importance of this investment.”

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