Father, mother and daughter sitting outside

Beyond the Classroom

6/13/16 by Judy Ohm

Wilder’s Child Development Center is located in Saint Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, a place with a long history, a poverty rate of 35 percent, and a diverse community of hopeful families and children with bright futures.

Our neighborhood’s disparities mean that children may belong to highly mobile families who face barriers around employment, housing, transportation, and education. But the students and parents at our preschool are resilient, capable and excited to learn.

Recently, a Wilder Research evaluation of developmental gains by children at the Center showed that the majority of the students evaluated met or exceeded school readiness standards in the 2014-15 school year. Most children at the Center improved in six core developmental areas from fall 2014 to spring 2015, and a majority were meeting or exceeding expectations in spring 2015.

By spring 2015, 100 percent of 4-5 year olds met or exceeded standards in the areas of language and cognitive development, such as literacy. Students age 3 ½ to 4 ½ met or exceeded expectations in all six core developmental areas at the same time.

To us, the data and the results we see every day show the power behind connecting with parents and families to build a learning community around each child.

Our Learning Community

The Child Development Center presents an academic, social and emotional curriculum in a nurturing and effective way, with a focus on school readiness. Our children receive a full day of learning with a standardized curricula for cognitive skills and their social and emotional development. Our daily schedules are modeled on Saint Paul Public Schools and early childhood education standards, which supports our children’s confidence when they enter kindergarten. We regularly assess our children’s development in all areas.

Because we consider ourselves a community preschool, we look for ways to partner with our families and our community to provide support beyond the classroom and promote lifelong learning. For example, during assessments, we may assess that some children are struggling to walk; their feet hurt. The cause is simple: parents are struggling to keep up with their child’s growing feet and don't have the right size shoes. We offer donated shoes in the right size for our students. We have regular conferences with our parents to discuss their child’s overall development, and we suggest ways for parents to continue working with their children at home.

Our parent-peer navigator supports parents who may be in need of resources that would support their family. In addition to help with applications for financial assistance such as early learning scholarships, we connect parents to other opportunities. One mother, for example, recently completed a 12-week construction worker certificate by Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota. Another parent has started the program.

Support for the Whole Family

We seek these connections and support because we know that our children learn better when the whole family feels supported. We believe in our students, we believe in our families, and in return they believe in us.

Judy Ohm is director of Early Childhood Services at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.