Goodwin opens Early Childhood Magnet School

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Aug. 23, 2013
The Early Childhood Magnet School will serve 240 children from the Greater Hartf
The Early Childhood Magnet School will serve 240 children from the Greater Hartford area. Photos by Corey AmEnde.

As the dawn of a new school year is upon us, Goodwin College prepares to open three new magnet school buildings over the course of the school year. The first to open its doors is the Early Childhood Magnet School on Willowbrook Street.

“This is a pretty exciting and a breakthrough year in a lot of ways for the college that we are opening all of these schools,” said Matt Engelhardt, communications coordinator at Goodwin College. In addition to the opening of the Early Childhood Magnet School, Goodwin will also open brand new buildings for the Connecticut River Academy, which is currently housed on the Goodwin College campus, and the Pathways Academy of Technology and Design, which will be moving from Windsor in 2014.

The Early Childhood Magnet School opens on Wednesday, Aug. 28, to kindergarteners and half of the preschool students.  On Thursday, Aug. 29, the other half of the preschool students and the kindergarteners will attend.  Full school begins on Friday, Aug. 30.
The Early Childhood Magnet School serves 240 children, including students in 3-year-old and 4-year-old pre-school as well as kindergarteners.  Every class will have 16 children, one certified teacher and one instructor.  Goodwin College contracted with LEARN, a regional educational service center, to hire and employ the staff.

The school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The school also offers an afternoon study program from 3 until 5:30 p.m., for a fee. 
The long-range plans are to physically expand the school to include children up to grade three.  Next year the school will include first-graders.

“It's really a school that is committed to early childhood education and the best practices within early childhood,” said Jenna Tenore, the director of the school.

Students from the Greater Hartford area are eligible to attend the school, but first must apply through the Regional School Choice Office. A lottery system then determines which students are selected to attend the school. Within the selected students, 40 percent will come from Hartford, 15 percent are East Hartford residents, and the remaining students are from the suburban communities. Included in the overall number of children attending the school, 15 percent of the openings are allocated for children of Goodwin College faculty, staff and students. 

The planning process for the school encompassed about five years, with construction lasting about one year. Svigals + Partners, an architectural firm based in New Haven, designed the building which has a focus on nature. The north entrance to the school features leaf sculptures on the exterior, images of trees that were created using softer colors protrude from the brick walls and flowers, and plantings in the ground add esthetics and enhance the nature theme. This theme carries into the building, where textured images of leaves are displayed on the walls throughout the building which houses 16 classrooms.

One of the characteristics that makes this school unique is that it is based on the Reggio Emilia educational model. Reggio Emilia is a town in Italy that developed an educational model that puts children and families at the heart of the learning process and focuses that process based on the interests of the children.  One of the points of this model is the concept of an Italian village.  The central meeting point in the school is called the atelier under the Reggio Emilia model.

“A lot of activity goes through here,” said Alan Kramer, dean of magnet schools at Goodwin College.  “It's a gathering place for children, it's a gathering place for families.  It's a place for activities, but it's just like any square in town, it isn't broken out to specific uses, it's open to people and belongs to the entire community.” 

On the floor of the atelier four subdued tones of blue, green, yellow and brown accent tiles accentuate the floor but also serve a functional purpose.  Off the atelier there are four areas which are called pods, “but are really like little villages,” added Kramer.  Each village is identified by its own color, and the colors on the floor lead the children to their villages which each contain four classrooms.
The color theme highlights each village in addition to an abundance of natural light.

“The teachers are creating welcoming environments,” said Tenore.  “If it makes you go 'ahh' in your house, that's what you want the classrooms to feel like; and definitely they've created calming, soothing, inviting environments for the children, and the materials are set up in ways that it's purposeful.”

Tenore said an example of how teachers plan to use natural materials in their lessons is by incorporating rocks, sea shells and corks into sorting activities.

Another key element of the Reggio Emilia model is called the 100 languages of children, Kramer explained. “The idea is that children don't just learn by writing things down,” said Kramer. “They sing, they move, they make actions, they draw pictures of all different kinds; they are able to express themselves in many different ways, so those 100 languages can be everything from movement and dance, to drawing, to painting to using images of any kind.”

“This is a very expressive program, and we use what's called an emergent curriculum,” added Kramer. “Instead of having a curriculum on a shelf for 3-year-olds, the curriculum is built around a child and the expressive abilities of a child on all the 100 languages that every child brings.”

In addition to nurturing the preschool and kindergarten students enrolled in the program, the building also serves as a laboratory school for Goodwin College. “This building will not only have teachers certified in every classroom and the instructors, it will also have Goodwin College faculty and students in here so that additional attention will benefit our children, but it will also benefit the adults that we're training to be early childhood educators because they will have learned how to work directly with children on a ongoing basis,” said Kramer.

The school is planning an official ribbon-cutting ceremony for Monday, Sept. 9, at 11 a.m.

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