The Center for Early Learning hosts ribbon cutting in Columbia

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Public Schools held a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for The Center for Early Learning-North (CELN) on Monday. The CELN opened January 4, and the building will open in full beginning in the fall of 2017.

"It's a collaboration of all of our early childhood programming. So it offers parents as teachers program, our pre-school program, as well as our early childhood socialize programming," Mary Rook, The Early Childhood Supervisor for Columbia Public Schools, said.

The CELN is the only center for early learning that the Columbia Public Schools has to house all three programs, and currently it has about 100 students.

"We finished the building just about a month ago, and we've been moving in and getting ready. And children started here last Wednesday," Rook said. 

The CELN has classrooms, multipurpose rooms, therapy rooms, screening rooms, library, small meeting rooms, a large gathering space for families and outdoor learning spaces. 

"Everything that happens to a child, what happens in the first five years sets the stage for the next 80," Rook said. "This foundation sets the stage for everything that comes after."

Nurses, speech language therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and parents educators are present in the CELN. Many of the parent educators are nurses, social workers or in fields related to education.

"I think our local district has done a tremendous job of trying to fill the gap where the state has had cuts. The state continues to make cuts to early learning, and our local district has really stepped up and is trying to fill that gap, and maintain the level of services that our community requests," Rook said.

Wendy Remus, a grandparent of one of the children who comes to the CELN, said she is excited about having consolidated and new facilities as opposed to sharing the classrooms with the elementary schools, mainly because the elementary schools are so full.

"They had to share the gymnasium with each of the individuals in elementary schools, and now that's their own, so they are able to utilize it, and more for themselves," Remus said.

The $9.3 million funding for the CELN is all local funding, and it's all through Columbia Public Schools. In 2012, the Columbia voters approved a bond, which was used for build the center. The Columbia Public Schools started building the center in fall 2014. 

"They are still working on finishing some parts of the building, especially the lower level. When we open up in the fall, we'll probably be closer to 500 students," Rook said.

Rook said the Columbia Public Schools hope to have more early learning centers, and there is hope to expand to the east, to the west and to the south.