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'Hidden gem' provides quality

By Jose Jimenez, staff writer
On February 14, 2014

  • Early Learning Center instructional assistant Linda Tiggs (left) leads a group of children ages 2-5 in a playful dance in ELC-110 on Monday. The ELC is encouraging more parents from outside the campus to enroll their kids. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate
  • Early Learning Center instructional assistant Linda Tiggs supervises free time activities in ELC-110 on Monday. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

This past August marked the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the Early Learning Center, located on the west side of campus on a hill just above the Bus Transfer Station.
In October of 1993, the State Department of Social Services granted a license to operate a child care center called the Contra Costa College-Early Childhood Lab School. Dr. D. Candy Rose was president of CCC at the time and the lab was housed in a portable located on the east side of campus, right across from the Building and Grounds offices. This was meant to be a temporary location until the college acquired state funding to build a permanent facility.
Barbara Grillo and leaders of the department met with architects and project planners in the late 90s to design the new facility.
In 2003, the new ELC Building opened boasting 6,000 square feet containing three preschool classrooms, three observation rooms, two infant/toddler classrooms, three offices, a library, kitchen, three restrooms and one smart classroom which allows for early child courses to be held on-site.
"It's the hidden gem here at CCC," Grillo said. "Many people don't realize we're located on this campus."
The ELC has received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and was one of 21 child care sites to participate in a pilot with Quality Rating and Improvement System.
In 2011, Contra Costa was one of 15 counties in California to receive a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant to develop QRIS. QRIS programs are designed to improve child care quality and provide a way for parents to easily identify high-quality programs.
This year a total of 65 sites have joined QRIS and by the end of 2015, the First 5 Contra Costa Children and Families Commission expect to engage a total of 90 child care sites.
Grillo said with that alone, the ELC goes above and beyond all of the minimum requirements to be a five-star center for children. However, that is not the biggest challenge the ELC is up against this year.
The ELC is in the middle of a program review, and even though they are in collaborations with First 5, the ELC still needs to improve finances and enrollment.
"The main expense is personnel costs," Grillo said. "If our classes were fully enrolled with children we could meet our financial demands. Currently we have six openings and since we're a non-profit organization, we want our income to cover our expenses."
She said that full enrollment is critical because that is how they hire quality teachers. In fact, the NAEYC standards are made up of about 50 percent children and the other half broken down into teachers, families, community relationships, physical environment and management.
Grillo said since the primary focus is the children, the other five standards establish an effective and durable support structure for a quality program, which she added the ELC has.
"Early intervention is key," she said. "We set high standards of quality and are a model program because we're training teachers in our practice. We want our child care to be the very best and it starts with the teachers here to the working parents at home."
Carla Yepiz, a parent with a child enrolled in the ELC day care, agrees and said that the stamp of approval, Preschool Makes a Difference (PMD), made a major impact on her decision to enroll her child.
"They have quality staff members and it's very convenient," Yepiz, who is majoring in early childhood development herself, said. "It's well worth it."
She said that this is her fourth semester at CCC and she is juggling math classes with other demands as a student and a parent. She said the ELC's flexibility is astronomical. Her child is attending the ELC for the very first time, proving that the ELC can work for any parent.
"That is one of my favorite things about this place," office assistant Robert Zunter said. "How diverse we are here. One thing I think the administration at CCC can help us with is to get the word out about us because when the school campus closes at times, we stay open most of the time."
Grillo agreed and said that websites, such as Yelp, can help with positive reviews by parents who have already experienced the ELC as a family.
"We could use some help from the social media," she said.
The ELC, which is open to the public, can care for children until the age of 5. This role is a service to students for the college, providing a high quality preschool for the children and their families through a laboratory school setting.
Parents who are achieving certificates in certain programs offered at CCC, or who have children under the age of 6 and are looking for help with child care, are strongly encouraged to enroll.
Grillo said that she sees subsidies, mostly involving CalWORKs, or families that have been receiving welfare and that seek employment, excel the most.
"About 50 percent of our families are receiving some type of subsidy," she said.
Tuition and hours vary for part-time and full-time monthly rates, pricing anywhere as low as $600 to a high of $850 with ample options to choose from for any time of the day not exceeding 6:30 p.m. The ELC also proudly offers Montessori classes and traditional classes.
For more information call the ELC front desk at 510-215-4885. 

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