BACK OF THE YARDS — Two South Side aldermen said they support having more early education centers inside elementary schools because it could boost enrollment while also preventing future school closings.
"I definitely think having an early learning center at an elementary school could serve as a feeder for more students from the neighborhood," said Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), chairman of the City Council's education committee. "I think it is a good program other schools could benefit from."
Thomas joined Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel Friday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new early education center operated by the nonprofit Metropolitan Family Services at Arthur Libby Elementary School, 5338 S. Loomis St.
And Cochran, whose ward includes Libby, said he is excited about the possibilities an early childhood development center could create for children and parents.
"Early childhood development is about getting kids accustomed to coming to school, reading and being comfortable with conversations and language," Cochran said. "And when we do that, then we have a child that can transition to the first, second and third grade."
Latrisha Emanuel is a single mother whose 5-year-old daughter attends Libby, and her 4-year-old niece will be attending the school's early education center.
"I like that my daughter and niece will be at the same school. It makes picking them up more convenient," said the 33-year-old Englewood resident. "This is a good school. My daughter loves it here. And the early childhood program sounds fantastic. I can't wait for it to start."
The center, which will also provide social services to parents, is expected to open Feb. 18 and can accommodate 122 children, according to Jennifer Alexander, program director for the early childhood programs for Metropolitan Family Services. So far, 75 families have signed up their children for the center, which targets low-income households.
Libby's principal sees the center as yet another resource for the community.
"This is an opportunity to impact children and make sure they start off on the right foot before starting school," said Kurt Jones. "The earlier you can impact a child's learning the better."
During the tour the mayor stopped to sit and read "The Cat in the Hat" to a group of four children, one of whom sat on his lap and another who played with toys as he read.
"Reading to a child is one way to get them interested in reading," Emanuel said. "If I had the time I would read another book to them."