When the youngest students in Farmington Public Schools returned to school in the fall, they opened the doors and stepped into the new Farmington Early Childhood Center, a renovated and expanded facility that replaces two previous early childhood centers in the district. The one central site allows for more efficiency for both staff and families.
“The construction added 10 additional classrooms, a front office suite and a gross motor room, and then all the rooms in the previous space were completely remodeled to match the new construction,” says Kirsten Cicchella, supervisor for early childhood education with Farmington Public Schools. “Everything has just blended together really well.”
The new building is equipped with child-sized furniture, bathrooms and learning resources. Thoughtful planning went into the creation of all of the spaces including the hallways where students can engage with letters, numbers, shapes, patterns, colors and so much more.
The playground, also remodeled, has distinct areas that allow for gross motor play and a large natural open area that flows into a naturescape with trails and outdoor seating. Development of an outdoor classroom is also in the works.
The entire initiative by Farmington Public Schools shines a light on the critical importance of early childhood education for every child — for future academic success and social-emotional well-being. “Of the greatest value is the work we do to lay the foundation for children to be socially and emotionally ready to tackle formal education moving into kindergarten,” Cicchella says.”
Start with social-emotional learning
At the Farmington Early Childhood Center, children in all programs — the birth to 3-year-old Early On program, the Head Start program. the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) and tuition-based preschool program — engage with highly skilled instructors who undergo continual professional development. Each program is designed to provide the very best early childhood educational experience.
“One of my personal and professional goals for the center is that we cohesively flow between programming,” Cicchella explains. “We serve our students with the highest standard of instruction and all of our staff members are trained in the research-based HighScope curriculum.”
Students engage in academic learning in small groups, including preliteracy and early math. As social-emotional learning is such an important facet of early childhood education, faculty and staff weave its components into all the activities and programs at the Farmington Early Childhood Center. “Even if children have the academic ability to move on to kindergarten and those academic skills are there, we know that if a child is not socially and emotionally ready, it can really inhibit them, regardless of their cognitive skills,” Cicchella says.
One valuable tool instructors at the Farmington Early Childhood Center use is the HighScope six steps of successful conflict resolution. “This teaches children how to handle conflicts on the playground and in the classroom. It is a process that they can use in adulthood,” Cicchella explains. “One of the great aspects of this process is that it empowers children to see that they are problem solvers who can generate ideas about how to move forward. We are providing them with intrinsic motivation to go on and problem solve for themselves — and we are doing it in a developmentally appropriate way.”
A safe and warm environment for learning
The center is currently running at half-capacity to allow for appropriate spacing and small cohorts, and parents can rest assured that all health guidelines to mitigate exposure to COVID-19 are being followed to the letter. Students are championing the use of masks, Cicchella says.
“The kids are really rocking wearing their masks. That was one of our most apprehensive pieces and we weren’t sure how it would go. We model, teach, reinforce and support; therefore, it’s a non-issue,” she says. “They are really doing a great job.”
Four separate entrances, staggered start and stop times, and an at-home daily temperature and symptom screening process for families all reduce any crowding that can typically occur at the start and end of the day. Students remain in their small 10-person cohorts throughout the day, even eating breakfast, lunch and snack in their classrooms. While parents and visitors are not currently able to enter the building, the faculty and staff work extra hard to support all families at the school.
“Anybody who comes here, including students, staff and parents, truly have a sense that this is somewhere they belong. We have a community here and a strong support system,” Cicchella says. “Everyone is supported here, and it’s something we reinforce with staff and parents — and we can see it in the faces of the kids that they are happy to be here.”
Learn more about the Farmington Early Childhood Center at www.farmington.k12.mi.us/fecc.