It’s only been about a month since Lisa Jones began as director of Early Education for Guilford Center for Children (GCC), but her love affair with GCC began as soon as her family moved to town three years ago.
GCC offers early education at its beautiful, purpose-built pre-school on Stone House Lane. GCC’s sister program offers elementary-age Before and After School Care (BASC) programs at Guilford’s three elementary school buildings.
The Jones family first enrolled their daughter, Molly, in GCC BASC as a kindergartener, three years ago.
“I just responded so affirmatively to what she was experiencing,” says Lisa, noting she assessed GCC “as a mom first, and then this has been my life’s work for many a year. I started in the field of early childhood education in Boston right after grad school.”
Lisa was directing an Old Saybrook early education program when the family moved here from Deep River and she found GCC’s BASC program for her daughter.
“I was hearing things from friends in other towns who couldn’t find a program they liked,” says Lisa. “They’re were walking into programs that were chaos. I was walking into focused activities, in a calm environment, with the same teachers every single day. My daughter was bringing home these amazing things and explaining them, and they were also offering her separate classes. I just thought, ‘I love this place so much!’ So that’s how the whole love fest with GCC began. And when I visited here, I felt the same thing over again.”
Located at 47 Stone House Lane, GCC’s state-of-the-art building is not only show-stopper, it’s the heart of the warm and inviting home of GCC’s all-day, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)-accredited early learning experience for preschoolers.
“NAEYC accreditation is the gold standard for early education,” says Lisa, of the rigorous standards which need to be met for the NAEYC’s stamp of approval. Accreditation is reviewed every five years. GCC has been consistently NAEYC accredited since 1995.
GCC welcomes working families and families of all income ranges, with tuition assistance based on state-set income levels as well as through unique GCC scholarships. GCC was founded in 1971 by a group of Guilford residents to meet the need for a growing number of working families. It’s early education site was located for many years in a small building on the Guilford Free Public Library campus.
When it comes to families seeking an early education experience through GCC, “We will not turn away. We don’t want families to ever feel deterred due to money,” says Lisa. “If you are interested in having your child here, talk to me. We have these amazing funds available so that every child that needs a great full day pre-school program that’s NAEYC accredited, I can make it work.”
GCC’s dedicated all-volunteer Board of Directors includes many of who have connections to children who have experienced the pre-school, Lisa notes.
“Liza Catino is the president and a past grandparent, and there are parents, past parents, and other grandparents, all helping to form decisions such as scholarships for families that need a little extra help here and there,” says Lisa.
Resident and mom Maggie Moffett Ferrell has been on the board since 2011.
“I cannot say enough positive things about this school,” says Maggie, adding that, as a non-profit, “one hundred percent of revenue goes to mission. Moreover, it is the only early education program in Guilford that offers significant financial assistance, thanks to special state grants for families in need, including newly settled Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees.”
The refugee families connected with GCC through an important relationship with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven and Guilford Interfaith Ministries, says Maggie.
“GCC is a vibrant and valuable part of the shoreline community, easily seen in the families served, the local businesses supported through strategic partnerships, and the close relationship with other Guilford youth organizations,” Maggie adds, with Guilford Community Fund and the school’s next-door neighbor, Guilford Food Bank, among them.
GCC’s early education building, constructed in 2010, is licensed for 80 students aged 3 to 5. It’s currently humming along with 55 youngsters in its four bright and airy classrooms, each overlooking the playground space outdoors. Upstairs is a vast all-purpose room where music (kids enjoy visiting staff from Teddy Bear Rhythms) and art classes are held. Other offerings for students include Spanish classes conducted by visiting educators from Aux Trois Pommes of Guilford. The second-floor space is also a great place to gather for rainy-day indoor activities (the children’s kitchen is a favorite).
In the coming months, Lisa is excited to help usher in open houses and programs, such as a Winter Warmer (parents only) Open House on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017 (at which parents can also meet with BASC staff) and a Positive Parenting Talk on March 28, 2017, given by Dr. Alicia Farrell. The events will be especially of interest to those who want to learn more about GCC. For more news and information, visit www.guilfordcenterforchildren.com.
But Lisa also stresses that anyone interested in joining the GCC pre-school family is always welcome to schedule a visit or give her a call. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, with about 30 openings to be filled next year as current preschoolers go on to kindergarten. She also welcomes parents of all stages and community members of all ages to schedule a visit.
“Come visit us,” says Lisa. “If you are pregnant, if you are thinking about having children, or even if you are member of the community that just has always wondered what’s in this building, come visit. The more people that put their eyes on these classrooms, the more people that they can spread the word to. So please come visit, and know that we’re here, and know that there will be no worries. And you won’t have to look any further.”
Walking in the door, the senses are immediately greeted by tempting smells from the center’s open kitchen. Inviting, tiny tables are set up in a large common space where the preschoolers gather for breakfast and lunch. Lisa has high praise for the center’s chef, Dawn Feldman.
“She prepares breakfasts and lunches and provides snacks; and it’s all homemade, natural, and organic. The whole school always smells like your grandmother’s cooking, all day long,” says Lisa.
Do preschoolers enjoy snacking on the likes of salsa made from scratch? The answer, more often than not, is “Yes,” and Lisa should know. Her son, Henry, is a three-year old GCC preschooler and an avowed “picky eater,” she says.
Lisa is very proud of GCC’s early education teachers and their staff, all who work with the children every day to craft an experience that will serve each child well as they grow. She shares something one of her teachers recently noted, that “GCC has always meant peace of mind to our families. They find comfort in knowing their children are in a warm, safe, and loving environment, with a full day program so they can work, as well as the benefits of having their children exposed to a wide range of learning opportunities.”
Lisa says those opportunities are shared through experiences with socialization at the core.
“The main key points of any preschool program should really be wrapped around socialization, and through those experiences, the teachers are weaving in the academics,” says Lisa. “So we’re following the state academics frameworks; we’re following the ELDS—the Early Learning Development Standards. Those are all woven into the social experiences that the children are experiencing every day.”
Lisa can’t overemphasize the importance of these formative years in a child’s life-long learning experience.
“Everything we do really reflects NAEYC accreditation and the standards of early childhood education that are just growing and growing,” says Lisa. “This field is finally coming into the recognition that these are the most important years to set the foundation.”