As the current landscape for early childhood education shifts, Scottdale Early Learning Center demonstrates creativity and resilience amidst a social distanced world.
Scottdale Early Learning, Inc. (SEL), is a longstanding nonprofit that has provided early education and parent training services to the central Dekalb County community in Georgia since 1977. SEL operates a high-quality rated early learning center, which serves children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old, primarily from families that are low-income and from communities of color.
In 2019, with Reinvestment Fund’s financing, SEL expanded its footprint to open a second flagship location, Midway Woods. The expansion increases access to quality early education in a county where only 59% of low-income families were enrolled in the statewide Pre-K program. The new school is focused on SEL’s center-based programs and celebrated its opening on March 6, 2020.
Shortly after the ribbon cutting, SEL, like many other businesses in the Greater Atlanta had to temporary close its doors due to health and safety guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic. While students and parents cannot meet in-person, SEL has remained determined to carryout its primary mission since 1977— “providing early education that fosters the intellectual, creative, social, emotional and physical development.”
Maryum Gibson, SEL’s President and CEO, has dedicated her career to making sure families have affordable and quality childcare. Over her seven-year tenure she has cultivated educators, volunteers, and parents to be active members in children’s early learning both at school and at home. In 2017, Gibson and SEL’s Board decided that SEL was ready to create more impact, serving a wider area, more families and becoming an anchor in a new community.
SEL’s Board Chair Cynthia Livingston’s passion for early childhood education led to her involvement in the organization, where she has pushed the executive committee to become more strategic. Livingston views the Midway Woods expansion as just the beginning to SEL’s wider footprint, adding momentum towards building additional sites, and more intensive program development.
SEL hosts three different programs: the Scottdale School, the organization’s center-based schooling; the Clarkson READY school with programming dedicated to children with English as their second language; and the Parents as Teachers program that gives parents the tools and resources to enrich their children at home, preparing them to enter a structured pre-school setting.
“We would not be where we are without our volunteer programs,” says Gibson speaking to the many volunteer programs that SEL also runs. “Our Parent Volunteer program gets parents engaged in their children’s education, making them more likely to stay engaged through the elementary years.”
Bria Fullerton, a full-time nurse and parent of two, volunteers at SEL, where both of her sons attended. Her volunteer experiences have ranged from book fairs and reading time to helping add seasonal spirit to the classrooms. When asked about the school, she raves highly of the center, saying it’s not a typical day care.
“Where many childcare facilities focus on playtime alone, Scottdale takes a wholistic approach to literacy, math and social skills,” explains Fullerton. “And their efforts to keep parents engaged and consider community needs makes this a family.”
Even as SEL closed its sites during the pandemic, its team of educators, leaders, and administration is working tirelessly to bring programming into every student’s home. Students meet once a week on Zoom to engage with their peers and teachers, curriculum is shared with parents with comprehensive lesson plans they can teach at home, and the school is working with a local book company to deliver age appropriate books straight to the children’s homes. In addition to the at-home programming, SEL is connecting parents to resources for meal-sites, rent and utility assistance, and free WiFi access. All this programming is free to the families that are part of SEL’s community.