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New Baltimore Pre-K Center Targets Low-Income Children

Gwendolyn Glenn

An early childhood center for children 5-years-old and younger opened in East Baltimore Wednesday. It’s part of an initiative to better prepare that area’s low-income children for school.
Located in the 100 block of N. Chester Street, the new Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center will serve more than 100 children. At the opening, state and local officials toured the new facility, housed in a former abandoned recreation center attached to the Commodore John Rodgers School.
A fund drive spearheaded by Living Classrooms, a local non-profit educational and workforce development organization, raised $1.6 million in public and private money to transform the unused space into an 11,000-sq. ft., modern early childhood center.

“This center will be a game changer for our students,” said school Principal Marc Martin.

The new facility is the second pre-K center in the initiative to open in East Baltimore. The other one is housed at the Johns Hopkins and Morgan State Universities-operated Elmer A. Henderson School in the 2100 block of Ashland Ave. Three others are planned for other distressed areas in the city to prepare children in high-poverty communities for kindergarten.

State School Superintendent Lillian Lowery said 83 percent of the Maryland’s children entered kindergarten with the skills they needed to succeed in 2013 because of the Pre-K programs. “The early learning opportunities we have for our children across the state are paying huge dividends,” Lowery said at the center’s grand opening. “Today with the opening of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center, now 110 more children will be in that number, percentage of success.”

She said children from birth to five years of age go through critical formative years that need to be nurtured. Those in low-income areas often do not attend pre-K centers in their early years because of finances, which can lead to achievement gaps in later years when compared to their classmates who attended early childhood centers.

“When we talk about K-12 education and the achievement gap, the achievement gap walks into kindergarten,” she said. “It’s not created once students are there…so what happens to our children aged 0-5 makes a significant difference.”

In addition to year-round pre-K classes, the Weinberg Center will also house a Head Start program, and a Judy Center to help the children’s parents with services such as adult education and GED courses. The parents will also be able to use the center’s childcare services when they are in class.

Holding her two-month-old son, Desmond Allen, Whitney Russell said she comes to the center twice a week for classes. “I’m in the GED program here, so I come and bring him with me on Mondays and Wednesdays,” Russell said. “They send a bus to pick me up and bring me back home.”

Center officials say helping parents helps the children and gives them a greater chance of succeeding when they enter kindergarten and throughout their school years.