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MLC plans Early Childhood Learning Center

October 25, 2012
By Kremena Spengler - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - The new Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) at Martin Luther College will expand early childhood education options for the community, MLC officials said, during a project update meeting.

The new, 15,500-square-foot facility will accommodate children ages birth through 5, compared to children ages 3-5 now, providing better service to families, they said.

The new center will gradually work its way up to 90-plus children, up from 35 now, which should reduce the waiting lists that are a common occurrence at the current center. (It is full for next year with 51 children, with one room for infants and toddlers and two rooms of pre-schoolers.)

Article Photos

Illustration courtesy of Martin Luther College

Martin Luther College plans to build a 15,500-square foot Early Childhood Learning Center on the site of the current center. Construction will start next spring, and occupancy is scheduled for next fall.

The center will also better serve the college, by more fully meeting the training needs of early childhood education majors and teachers already working in the field.

Currently, MLC students have to travel to other sites to complete the birth through age 3 component of their training, explained Kate Tohal, Resource Development Counselor at MLC, during the presentation. The new center will eliminate any educational inconsistencies, as well as expenses or inconveniences, associated with this practice.

The new center will be wired for video services, allowing licensed teachers nationwide, or teachers wishing to obtain a license, to take courses by sitting at their home computer. This aspect has a great appeal to practicing early childhood teachers, college staff found.

Fact Box

Early childhood education is fastest area of growth for WELS. The program is open to all children regardless of church affiliati

Early childhood education is the fastest area of growth for WELS (the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), the college reports. WELS congregations run 403 early childhood education centers nationwide, and this number now exceeds the number of WELS elementary schools. To put the trend in perspective, officials observed that WELS runs the third-largest private school system in the country.

The pre-schools are open to all children, regardless of church affiliation. Twenty-five percent of the children served by WELS pre-schools are unchurched or non-Christian.

Twenty WELS congregations are revitalizing or expanding their early childhood ministries, and 30 churches report wanting to start new pre-schools, officials added.

The number of students pursuing early childhood majors at MLC has doubled over the past five years, with 117 current students majoring in the field. Forty-six sophomores are currently enrolled as early childhood majors at the college.

The present ECLC will move to the MLC campus during construction. It will take nine months from moving the current ECLC to campus until the new center is ready for occupancy, Tohal said.

The project timeline is more specifically as follows:

In December, the current center will move to a section of the Luther Student Center on campus. Next January and February, contractors will prepare the old building for demolition. In March, the building will be razed and construction of the new building will start. Next fall, the children and staff will move into the new building.

The $5 million project (divided into $4 million for the facility itself and $1 million for early childhood education financial aid) will be entirely funded with donations, and resource development counselors are busy explaining the project to interested donors. A donor group has committed $1.25 million in a challenge grant. The group will match funds raised between Sept. 17, 2012 and June 13, 2013, up to that amount.



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