Educare serves at-risk children from birth to five years. Educare Schools embrace a community's most vulnerable children with programming and instructional support that develop early skills and nurture the parent-child relationships that create the foundation for successful learning.
“Every time I see this furniture, I can’t help but smile,” says Rafel Hart, the Director of Educare New Orleans — which is part of a network of non-profit schools across the United States. The furniture he’s talking about is for the children in one of Educare’s infant toddler classrooms.
“So the children in this classroom range in age from six weeks to 3 years old,” explains Hart. “That sounds like a wide range for the children, but in actuality, what it does is it mimics what the children might see at home if they have an older or a younger sibling. And it also teaches the children some principles around empathy, and the older children caring for the younger children and the younger children learning from the older children.”
Each infant toddler classroom has eight children and three teachers. Across the hall is a preschool classroom where the children range from 3–5 years old. There are 17 of them, and three teachers.
“Let’s show Mr. Hart that we know red,” a teacher tells the students.
“Do you all know red?” asks Hart.
“Yes!” they answer.
“I want to see if you all know red,” Hart repeats.
“Let’s sing about red,” a song instructs them, and the children comply. “R-e-d. Red,” they sing. “R-e-d. Red.”
“Our hours of operation are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the parents can leave the children with the program for as long as they like,” explains Hart. “It is extremely good for working families — moms and dads. At its core, this program is a Head Start program. And one of the requirements of the program is that the parents are either in school or working, and so therefore to have your child enrolled in the program you have to have a reason to need child care.
“I believe that children don’t start learning when they’re 5 years old or when they go to kindergarten. They’re actually learning and developing quite a bit before that. Between the ages of birth to 5, the brain is developing, their socio-emotional abilities are developing. Basically, what’s happening at that time frame — the early childhood time frame — is the child’s foundation is being strengthened.
“Any child who lives in Orleans Parish can attend the program. So we have children as coming from as far as Algiers to New Orleans East coming to this program, and we have a very extensive wait list — 250-plus children.”
Which is well over the 150 children Educare New Orleans can enroll in its 12 Head Start classrooms. Hart explains how children are admitted to the school.
“The determination in reference to the children is based on a scoring system. So the parents apply, and they provide us with information based on their socioeconomic status, and then based on the numbers they receive from having completed the application, that determines if they’re going to have a space in the program.
“Families in most need are the families that would receive higher priority.
“When we do selection, when we determine who is going to be attending the program, we’re always looking at that list and seeing way more children than we have slots for," he says. "The number of children far exceeds the Head Start slots we have in the city, and that tells us we really need to divert some attention and finances to shoring up early childhood education in the city of New Orleans."