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Long-Awaited Santa Monica Early Childhood Center to Break Ground

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By Jorge Casuso

March 6, 2018 -- Three decades after it was first proposed, an early childhood education center will break ground at the Santa Monica Civic Center this month, officials from Santa Monica College (SMC) announced last week.

A joint partnership between SMC and the City, the Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School will serve as many as 110 infants, toddlers and preschoolers and will be operated by the local child development nonprofit the Growing Place.

Rendering of Early Childhood center
Rendering of Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab (Courtesy Carde Ten Architects)

A groundbreaking ceremony for the 20,000-square-foot facility will be held March 13 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on the site of the future school on the corner of 4th Street and Civic Center Drive.

“The Lab School will be a vital new community asset for early learning in Santa Monica where we are committed to seeing that every one of our children has a strong foundation to start kindergarten,” Mayor Ted Winterer said in a statement.

“It will meet the needs of families living in surrounding neighborhoods, educate our next generation of leaders while also cultivating exceptional teachers,” he said.

Students of SMC's Early Childhood Education (ECE) degree program -- the first in Southern California to win national accreditation -- will "observe and document child development" under the guidance of faculty members, college officials said.

“This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for SMC and the City to work together to fulfill a demonstrated need in our community, and in so doing, develop a national model of progressive early childhood education,” said SMC Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery.

“The Growing Place will, without a doubt, execute a collective vision of the best possible child development, while parents and children will benefit from the latest practices in the field -- a capstone of SMC’s role in this partnership.”

A minimum of 30 percent of the students enrolled will be Santa Monica residents, and a minimum of 15 percent will come from low-income families, officials said.

Slots also will be open to the children of those who work in Santa Monica, including employees of the City, SMC and RAND, which participated in the planning and provided funding.

The Lab School is part of the City's efforts to further the Santa Monica Cradle to Career Initiative and help prepare children for kindergarten in Santa Monica, where 35 percent of young children are not on track to start school, college officials said.

Pauline McPeake, executive director of the Growing Place, said the goal of the school will be “to positively impact children, families, teachers, and programs beyond our walls.

“This Lab School’s visibility in Santa Monica will provide the community with the opportunity to rethink what it means to teach young children and its responsibility to early education,” McPeake said.

The discussions by Santa Monica City Council regarding the need for a preschool and childcare center in the Civic Center area was first discussed by the City City Council in 1989.

After the Civic Center Working Group made the center a priority in 2001, it was incorporated into the Civic Center project. The plan was formally approved in 2012 when the the Council and the SMC Board of Trustees approved an agreement that paved the way for the project.

The center, designed by Carde Ten Architects, is funded by SMC’s 2004 voter-approved bond Measure S, the 2016 bond Measure V and general fund monies from the City.

The RAND Corporation also provided funding as part of building its new headquarters at the Civic Center. The City will dedicate the money to tuition subsidies for low-income Santa Monica families.

The Lab School is expected to open fall 2020.


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