Mayor Vincent C. Gray may have gotten a little swept up in the moment at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the Educare early childhood center in Parkside-Kenilworth. In hammering the point that it’s never too early for early childhood initiatives, the mayor said: “Frankly, if I were in a position to have a fetus in the program, I’d do it.” He added: “We don’t know what’s going on in the intrauterine experience” that might enable an unborn child to benefit.
The intrauterine experience not withstanding, Tuesday was a big day in Ward 7 as the Educare facility finally launched. The $12 million project, spearheaded by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund (headed by Susie Buffett, daughter of the billionaire investor) was due to break ground as early as last summer but ran into a thicket of local issues involving labor, land ownership and governance. The plan now is to open in early 2012 and serve 171 at-risk infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families.
Buffett, the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation are among the private funders underwriting construction of the building, adjacent to Neval Thomas Elementary School. It will be operated by a local partnership that includes the United Planning Organization (the local Head Start grantee) and funded with a combination of D.C., federal and private dollars. It will be one of 12 Educare schools operating across the country in an effort to raise the quality of birth-to-5 services for low-income families.
Officials envision Educare as a critical cog in the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, similar to New York's Harlem Children's Zone. Educare, Thomas Elementary and the Parkside campus of Cesar Chavez Public Policy Charter School (grades 6 through 12) would help provide the basis for a web of continuous social and educational services.
A consortium of community groups led by Chavez won a $500,000 grant last fall to continue the planning effort. Other major players include America's Promise Alliance, chaired by Alma Powell, wife of former secretary of state Colin Powell, and City Interests, headed by developer Alan Novak.