By Alice Ortiz/Monroe Journal
AMORY – Gilmore Foundation has opened The Center, an educational learning center, in the former Amory Learning Center building, for children in Monroe County from birth to nine years old.
The Center will assist area childcare providers, Monroe County Schools, Nettleton schools, Amory and Aberdeen city schools in making sure that all children have an equal opportunity education.
Gilmore Foundation Executive Director Danny Spreitler said, “We are trying to cover the gambit of what kids need. School supplies are expensive and we want to help parents by providing some of the needed supplies. Parents can check out online some of the items needed and we can deliver them to the school that child attends.”
Not a dime for The Center came from taxpayers. It is fully funded by Gilmore Foundation.
“We also want to challenge advanced children,” said Spreitler. “We plan to have summer enrichment programs and lots of literacy programs.”
The Center has backpacks, which are filled with items that students need. They can be checked out, used, then returned.
All types of school materials, from construction paper, rubber bands, crayons, to bulletin board items, are available at The Center.
Spreitler said he visited a childcare center in November and a child told him, “Mr. Spreitler, I want to so some painting.” When the child picked up a paintbrush, the end fell off. To Spreitler, that is unacceptable. All children should have access to school supplies that work correctly.
“We have had tremendous support for this venture from the schools in the area and other groups,” Spreitler said. “One day in the mail, we had a check for $1,000 from Walmart. There was no note or anything in the envelope with the check.”
Spreitler said he was appreciative of Dr. Gearl Loden, superintendent of Amory Schools, who had helped bring his (Spreitler’s) idea for The Center to fruition. Dr. Loden and Spreitler will oversee the program.
The goal of The Center is to make individuals better students and better members of society.
“We want The Center to be the center of influence in life,” said Spreitler. “We don’t think that the lack of natural resources should prevent kids from achieving in life. We will even provide transportation to get the kids here. We are taking the reasons a child can’t succeed and doing away with it. We have to stop blaming and start working together to make sure all children have the opportunity to achieve in life.”
The Center has early childhood specialists and licensed teachers on staff to implement this program. Their background checks are stricter than federal and local requirements. Staff members are trained for pediatric CPR, to operate defibrillators and they have 60 hours or more CEU’s. Professionals are available to help a teacher that might be encountering an issue and needs help resolving it.
Tutoring for 4- and 5-year-olds will also be available. With the new education guidelines being set up across the country, kindergarten and pre-kindergarten requirements are getting much stiffer and that age group will not be passed unless they master the requirements.
An area in The Center has been designated as an art wall. Kids will be free to paint all over that area.
“We have no coloring sheets here,” said Spreitler. “Kids are encouraged to paint outside lines.”
A reading area, equipped with colorful cushions and rug, has been set aside for kids to grab a book, plop down and read.
Another unique feature of The Center is the “Mother’s Suite,” where mothers can breast feed their child in comfort. The suite also shows mothers that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be a good mom.
Down one side of the hall is a chalkboard for kids to draw, print, or write.
To help parents of special-needs children, The Center has curriculum and other items to help that child. There is also a special-needs chair available to assist with the child while at The Center. There are resources at The Center on autism, which can be checked out for use at home.
The Center program is the only non-school program of its kind in the state. It will be open 12 months a year. When school is out in the summer, the hours will be longer.
Stations are set up at The Center for parents to learn what is going on in daycare.
“ I do want to stress that this is not a place for parents to drop off their children and leave,” said Spreitler. “We are here to help parents and children, not be a baby-sitter.”
Resources are also available at The Center for languages that are not spoken locally. Spreitler said they did not want to miss anyone who needed help.
In Gilmore Foundation’s work with area daycare and Promise Schools, they traveled over 42,000 miles last year in order to make sure that children had the opportunity to learn and succeed.
The Center also wants to make sure that kids have adequate health care. P & S Clinic in Amory distributes literature for the Gilmore Foundation. Spreitler said they want to provide an eye exam, hearing test, and dental exams for children who need them.
Outdoor activities are planned for the spring and summer including a children’s garden, which will be under the direction of local landscaper, Curt Tubb.
“We also have resources here for Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teachers,” Spreitler said. “If you are working with children, this center’s here for you. We have all kinds of resources for bulletin boards here.”
As in the past, college and GED courses will still be held at The Center.
“We want The Center to be a community classroom,” said Spreitler. “It is the center of education outside of the schools.”