After more than a decade of running food drives and shuttling workers to their jobs, New Harvest Christian Center heeded the community’s outcry for quality childhood development and opened an early learning center for 4-year-olds in Battle Creek, Michigan.
With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) preschool program, The Harvest Learning Center opened in January 2016, offering full-day preschool for 4-year-olds. Center staff plan to apply for additional funding to expand the program to 2 ½-, 3- and 5-year olds not currently supported with GSRP funding.
New Harvest Christian Center Pastor Ivan Lee, citing data from the Early Development Instrument that only 7 percent of students in Battle Creek enter kindergarten ready to learn, said there are significant barriers facing families that affect child preparedness, such as parental incarceration.
“Just to realize that the majority of kids have a parent or have had a parent be incarcerated at some point in time is kind of overwhelming,” Lee said, adding that 75 perrcent of his students fall into this category. The Harvest Learning Center has two classes with 21 students four days a week and provides transportation and wrap around childcare for students. The center’s three teachers use the HighScope Educational Research Foundation preschool curriculum, designed to help students excel in language and critical thinking. The Calhoun County school district provides professional development and classroom coaches who meet with teachers once a month to ensure the center’s success with the HighScope curriculum.
“It has been very beneficial for the teachers’ growth,” Lee said of the district’s support. Erika Burkhardt, Calhoun Intermediate School District (CISD) assistant superintendent for Early Childhood Services, said the center has helped reach and support more children of color.
Lee said the school is looking to partner with local community gardens to reduce costs, while still providing students access to fresh, healthy food. They also plan to launch a parent support group and might also offer 24-hour childcare in the future.
“We want to make sure that we’re going at a decent pace,” Lee said. “We want to improve each year and we want to grow each year, but at the same time we don’t want to over do it and put our kids in the same situation they were in prior to coming to us.”
Research has shown children who attend a high-quality preschool perform better academically and in the workforce. Keondra Owens, a member of New Harvest Christian Center and mother of three, said attending preschool also enhanced the social and emotional development of her two oldest children, Keon’tre, 8, and Paris, 6.
“It’s very important for my kids to have an education,” said Owens, who also enrolled her youngest child, Precious, 4. “They’re going to need it throughout life. They’re going to need to know how to read, how to write and how to talk to people.”
Lee, who’s proud to provide a service that aligns with the mission of his church, said the community and parents are delighted with the school’s performance.
"It’s core to our faith to be helpers for those that need help,” he said. “Our mission is to reach the unreached and this does it in so many ways.”