David Douglas Schools builds ‘Early Learning’ center

Discover why this school district has dedicated $7 million to educating pre-kindergarten kids, and their families, in an outer East Portland learning center …

Members of the Earl Boyles Elementary School Marimba Band musically greet guests who the Early Learning center’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In what once was a grassy area between Earl Boyles Elementary School and Earl Boyles City Park there is now the construction site of a building that will be home to the David Douglas School District Early Works site.

Staying warm inside the Earl Boyles Elementary Media Center on the clear but frigid morning of December 5, supporters and dignitaries gathered for a special event.

“Today, we’re breaking ground for the construction of an Early Works early learning wing for the school,” said David Douglas School District (DDSD) Superintendent of Education Don Grotting.

In 2010, DDSD entered into a partnership with the Portland nonprofit Children’s Institute to create Early Works, an innovative initiative programs to close the “achievement gap” for Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood children, Grotting explained.

Many of the outer East Portland neighborhood families in the school’s area have high unemployment rates, don’t speak English as their primary language, and have not completed high school, Grotting pointed out. “This wing will have dedicated space for community providers to deliver the critical services needed to ad­dress the underlying issues of poverty, in a central location.”

Inside the school’s Media Center, DDSD Superintendent of Education Don Grotting and long time Board Member Frieda Christopher show guests illustrations of the Earl Boyles Elementary School’s new Early Learning Courtyard.

$3,500,000 of the funding for the $7 million project has come from, so far, the DDSD $39 million facilities bond passed in 2012, $900,000 in public funding from the City of Portland, Portland Development Commission and Multnomah County, and $753,050 in private donations and pledges – bringing the total committed funding to $5,153,050.

The school district continues a fundraising effort to close the gap. To learn more about the campaign, see their webpage: CLICK HERE.

“We believe this is the best investment a school district or a community can make,” Grotting told East Portland News. “It’s a program that starts helping families and their children, ages zero to five years. It provides them the opportunity to enter kindergarten with the skills, health, and attitudes that they need to be successful, and eventually to complete high school.”

Grotting said that this investment will help children, from the time they’re born through third grade, by providing a “Family Hub, in which parents will be able to come in and access employment opportunities, health service, housing, and other economic-impact-issue services.”

“As a school district, our vision is that by helping create stronger, more stable families, we can close or eliminate the achievement gap with our high population of low-income students, and ultimately help to break the cycle of poverty,” Grotting added.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman talks with project supporters before the groundbreaking ceremony begins.

“I am absolutely thrilled about what the school district is doing with their early childhood learning center, here at Earl Boyles Elementary,” said Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Reminding that the Portland City Council contributed $100,000 to the project, Saltzman remarked, “We believe in these concepts of helping young children, and their families. I am convinced that the more access young children have the learning, and their families have support, but those children will be successful. These programs work.”

DDSD Superintendent of Education Don Grotting welcomes all to the groundbreaking.

Earl Boyles 5th grade student Jennifer Dinh says, on behalf of the students at her school, she believes many children will be helped by the new program.

Outside, at the groundbreaking site, Grotting gave brief welcoming remarks. He then introduced a 5th grade student.

“I want it to share my feelings with everyone,” said Jennifer Dinh, a student in Ms. Graham’s class.

“It’ll be very important because our new Early Learning wing will help support people in our community. It will help children be very successful in the future.”

Quoting Nelson Mandela, who had died that day, DDSD School Board Chair Cheryl A. Scarcelli Ancheta remarked that an education is “necessary to create change”.

The next speaker, DDSD School Board Chair Cheryl A. Scarcelli Ancheta, said she herself  attended Earl Boyles, and graduated from David Douglas High.

Scarcelli Ancheta commended members of the school board for working on the project, and thanked members of the community for voting to approve the capital funding, permitting the center to be built.

“We are unified, and joined together the students and the parents among us in this effort,” she said.

Members of Earl Boyles Parent United Group express their support for the project.

“I have seen how early childhood learning helps young people succeed in school,” remarked Karina Armenta of Earl Boyles Parents United Group. “I am so pleased to see this facility being constructed.”

All wearing hard hats, these Earl Boyles Elementary students stand ready to break some ground …

… and with a little help from adults, like Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, they dig in.

After a group sing of “What a Wonderful World”, the song re-released in 1967 by Louis Armstrong, a group of little kids, armed with miniature shovels, dug in, breaking the ground for the new Earl Boyles Early Learning wing.

When the new center is completed in the fall of 2014, Earl Boyles will provide Pre-K education to every child in the Earl Boyles attendance area, as well as multiple adult services and infant-toddler care in its Neighborhood Center.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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