INA – The Rend Lake College Foundation Children’s Center celebrated its 10th birthday today on the campus in Ina. To find out exactly what has made the center such a success over the past decade, it’s best to go to those who are there every day – the students.
“Riding the scooters on the playground,” said four-year-old Nate Ragland of Benton. Zachary Hamilton of Sesser agreed it’s the scooters while Carter Mick of Bonnie and Addi Darnell of DuQuoin claimed it is undoubtedly the yellow slide. While each provided his or her answer to the question, Lee Holman of Whittington added another twist to the poll. “Learning,” he said, is his favorite thing about the center.
It turns out they are all correct. The play-based learning method used at the center has been a huge success in nurturing the children’s growth both socially and intellectually.
“It’s really great to see this many children learning by play,” said Pat Kern, the RLC Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, while watching students interact on the playground.
“This facility has expanded and helped so many children of our students, faculty and staff over the last 10 years. By going to college and making their lives better, they make their children’s lives better. That was the Foundation’s mission when this center was built.”
Kern explained that the college’s accrediting body in 1998, the North Central Association, identified childcare as the most important need on RLC’s campus when a team of representatives visited 10 years ago.
“The center was just being built on campus at that time, so we were meeting that need,” she said. “They also said at that time that the number one asset was the Foundation and the resources it was yet to bring to this campus. The Children’s Center is at the very top of that list of resources.”
Making sure that resource is the best it can possibly be on a daily basis is Peggy Dolce, or “Miss Peggy” as she is affectionately called by most at the center.
In 2004, Dolce was promoted to director of the center after serving three years as lead toddler teacher. Since the promotion, the center has earned its second accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children – a widely-recognized sign of high quality in early childhood education programs. Today there are more than 10,000 NAEYC-accredited programs in the U.S., serving more than 850,000 young children and their families.
The successful reaccreditation process last year was much more rigorous than the initial accreditation process the center underwent in 1999, according to Dolce.
“It was a lot of hard work last year to get accredited again,” she said.
The two-time NAEYC accreditation and a pre-Kindergarten grant from the State Board of Education have been the two greatest benefits to the center since it opened, Dolce said.
“Getting the ISBE pre-K grant has been great for our program. It makes it affordable for parents and students, and it makes us truly accountable as educators to our kids in getting them ready for success in school.”
One big component of the grant is parent-involvement, which has since spread from the pre-Kindergarten class to the infant and toddler classes.
“It’s been a real benefit having parents here doing activities with the children and getting to know the teachers better.”
There are mechanisms in addition to the pre-K grant to help make childcare at the center more affordable. Students can use their financial aid, whether it be grants or loans, to pay for childcare and the center works with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ program, Project CHILD, the corporation Man-Tra-Con and more.
When asked what sets the center apart from other childcare facilities in the area, Dolce replied that it is the professionalism of the staff and program.
“We all have degrees varying from master’s degrees to associate degrees,” she explained. “And it’s our level of commitment. We do extra. It’s not just what you see on a daily basis.”
The “extra” includes spending weekends at home researching emerging trends in the field and new activities for the classroom. It’s all part of the growing process, she said.
“We set goals and we try to do things better each year. Every year, we have grown in one way or another.”
One goal she finds particularly pleasing to see accomplished is when a child attends from infancy to school-age. This school year, four students who started their education on the RLC campus – Austin Crouse, Nate Ragland, Addi Darnell and Remington Stevens – will say goodbye to the center and move on to kindergarten.
“We love to get them as infants and see them go to Kindergarten,” Dolce said. “This year, we have one of the largest classes doing that.”
Since opening its doors to the public on Oct. 21, 1998, the RLC Foundation Children’s Center has met the childcare needs for hundreds of families in the area. Last August, the college increased that commitment to the community by opening of a sister facility at the RLC MarketPlace in Mt. Vernon. Now a year old, the RLC MarketPlace Early Childhood Center offers the same level of quality childcare and early childhood education as the on-campus center. Located on Potomac Boulevard in Mt. Vernon, the new center cares for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years and features expanded hours to serve parents working nontraditional shifts. Call the MarketPlace center at 618-437-5321, Ext. 2017.
For additional information about this release, contact Dolce at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1393.