Stamford children’s learning agency extends reach
STAMFORD — There was an unlikely gathering at a local museum for a field trip last week.
A group of preschool children and senior citizens gazed at pieces of art and browsed the natural history exhibits. The gathering at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich was the first joint trip between kids from the Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County and seniors from the Edgehill community — two Stamford-based organizations that have become strong partners in recent months.
The program is one of several initiatives CLC has led this year as part of a major rebranding.
The agency, now in its 114th year, is increasing its collaboration across the county at a time of declining support for early childhood education.
Besides cuts in state funding, there is uncertainty as to how the federal government will handle education since President-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign to eliminate or drastically shrink the U.S. Department of Education.
“We’re committed to becoming less dependent upon government funding,” CEO Marc Jaffe said. “But having said that, it would be extremely difficult to liberate ourselves completely. There is a role for government to play. And certainly, government should be playing a role in helping to educate our youngest citizens who otherwise can’t afford to have a preschool experience.”
State and federal grants account for 70 percent of CLC’s $15 million budget.
The organization, previously known as Childcare Learning Centers, recently changed its name and logo. “Childcare” was replaced by “children’s” and “Fairfield County” was added to highlight the agency’s effect on communities outside Stamford.
“Childcare, in certain respects, is almost an outdated notion,” Jaffe said. “We’re much more disciplined and much more serious than that. We wanted the focus to be on children’s learning, not on childcare.”
CLC, as it will continue to be known, offers early childhood programs at eight Stamford locations and serves about 1,500 children every year, from infant to 5 years old.
It accommodates families of all income levels with sliding scale-based fees and scholarships. Children in surrounding communities with parents who work in Stamford are eligible to attend. The agency also sponsors the Greenwich federal Head Start program.
More than 86 percent of CLC’s children come from low-income families. In addition, about 70 percent of children come from immigrant households, where nearly 30 languages are spoken.
Jaffe said CLC’s work has never been more important. Jaffe said research shows early childhood education is vital to children’s success and health. According to the Rauch Foundation, 85 percent of the brain is developed by age 5.
“If you have an early childhood education, you’re much more likely to be reading at grade level when you’re in third grade, much more likely to graduate from high school, much more likely to get a job, more likely to be healthy,” he said. “For all of those reasons, it makes the most sense to support early childhood education.”
Another challenge the agency faces is the gradual reduction of the Care 4 Kids program, which Jaffe said has been “under assault.” The program subsidizes child care and preschool for low-income families, but the state last summer tightened eligibility requirements for new program applicants and stopped awarding new subsidies.
Mary Jane Garcia, who has two children at CLC, lost her Care 4 Kids eligibility after the changes. The Stamford woman said the cut has had “a great impact” on her life.
Fortunately, she said, she is still eligible for other, smaller CLC subsidies.
Garcia leaves her 3-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son at CLC’s main campus on Palmers Hill Road every morning before heading to work. She works at a doctor’s office for up to nine hours a day.
Garcia said the agency’s flexible schedule “definitely helps” her family. But besides the schedule and the “amazing teachers,” the Philippines native said her two kids have been learning French and Spanish and they “love going on field trips.”
Edgehill resident Joan Weisman said Thursday’s museum trip did not just benefit the children.
“It’s good for the spirits of both sides,” she said.
Through the CLC and Edgehill partnership, seniors also visit the preschoolers at least once a month to read, play together and share some of their talents and special activities. The kids have also visited Edgehill, which is next to the agency’s Palmer Hill Road site. On Halloween, for instance, a group of children visited Edgehill to sing songs and paint pumpkins with the seniors.
“The intergenerational relationship is really great,” said Weisman, chairman of Edgehill’s social action committee. “It was a really fun experience.”
[email protected], 203-964-2265, @olivnelson