Editor's Note: This story is part of The Partnership Project, a series of content written in an effort by The Daily News to follow the formal collaboration of Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools. Read more in this series here.
Members of the Muncie community reacted positively to the new children and family center situated in an old but familiar location.
The Mitchell Early Childhood and Family Center, invited members of the community 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, to visit its renovated facility — the new location of the Ball State’s Child Study Center and the YMCA of Muncie’s childcare services.
The center once served as Mitchell Elementary School before closing doors May 2017. Ball State purchased the facility March 2018.
Becky Satterfield, director of the new center said the location of the building, close to Ball State’s old child study center and YMCA’s Apple Tree Child Development Center, made it convenient for families that previously used either of the programs. She also said being in the neighborhood “opens a lot of doors for families.”
“To have an early childhood center of this size with these resources in your backyard ... that’s pretty incredible for the families who live in this area,” Satterfield said.
The new facility, she said, is licensed for 196 children and the building isn’t at full capacity yet.
Apart from sharing the building’s transformation with the neighborhood and allowing the community to see the work they do, Satterfield said she also wanted other early childhood educators and providers to see the center.
“I would love for them to come and see what we have and think about ways that Mitchell can partner with them in some way, collaborate with them in some way, so that we can really keep pushing forward early childhood education in Delaware County,” she said.
Construction on the facility, which opened Aug. 19, started in April this year, she said, adding the staff from both former centers also began collaborating months before the opening.
“We wanted the staff to feel integrated. We wanted them to feel a part of one unit, one team,” Satterfield said.
One staff member Emma Dragoo, junior early childhood education major, and the center’s outdoor educator and lead teacher of the nature preschool program, said she hopes the center becomes “a hub for early childhood educators for professional development.”
“I think that this center has the potential to be many things to many people because we want the community to be here just as much we want the children to be visible in the community,” Dragoo said.
Visibility, Dragoo said, was something she learnt from the Reggio Emilia approach, a primary education system originating in northern Italy. YMCA’s website states the center follows a “Reggio-inspired” approach.
According to an article in the Early Childhood Education Journal, this approach is guided by the following points: “the learner possesses rights, is an active constructor of knowledge, and is a social being; the instructor is a collaborator and co-learner along with the child, a guide and facilitator, and a researcher; and knowledge is viewed as being socially constructed, encompassing multiple forms of knowing, and comprised of meaningful wholes.”
“The children are so visible in that community and in Italian culture,” said Dragoo who visited the Reggio Emilia region a couple of years ago. “That’s not necessarily the case here in Muncie, Indiana.”
She said having the network of Ball State and the YMCA will ease the improvement of visibility.
Through the partnership with Ball State, Dragoo said her nature preschool program, which has outdoor classes, will be allowed to use the university’s field station and environmental education center. She said Ball State also plans on transforming an empty space near the center into a “forest kindergarten classroom.”
“This center, I really feel like is going to help mend some of the broken connections between Ball State and between the Muncie community,” Dragoo said. “I think quality childcare is going to come from all of us coming together instead of being broken and divided.”
Clark Brasel, whose children were once enrolled at Apple Tree but are currently in kindergarten, said they probably wish to have stayed young enough to make use of the current facility.
“For a building like this that really didn’t have a lot of hope or a lot of future, certainly it’s kind of a beacon of hope for the neighborhood to have something like this,” Brasel said. “It’ll be real supportive of the neighborhood to have this continue to be a place where kids come.”
Satterfield said the neighborhood has responded positively to the renovated center and has voiced their excitement about the building being used for children again.
“Seeing Ball State merging with the Y — these two big organizations in the city working together on behalf of children, on behalf of families — sends a very powerful message,” she said. “Having their name[s] on there, it sends a message that these children have access to a whole lot of great possibilities.”
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