University, community leaders celebrate Educare of Lincoln grand opening

Leaders from the University of Nebraska, government, private sector, K-12 education and nonprofit organizations gathered today to celebrate the grand opening of the new Educare of Lincoln, a state-of-the-art early education center that will serve children from low-income families in the city. Educare of Lincoln is located adjacent to Belmont Elementary School, at 3435 N. 14th St.

The facility is the newest in a growing national network of early learning centers that also includes two highly successful Educare centers in Omaha. Educare of Lincoln is a collaboration of a wide variety of community partners: NU, the University of Nebraska Foundation, Lincoln Public Schools, the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties, and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

“Great things happen when good people work together – and that’s what Educare is all about,” said Susan Buffett, chair of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund. “It takes a strong partnership between the private sector and the public sector to create Educare, to reach the levels of quality needed to help children arrive at school ready and eager to learn. Especially with the unique partnership here with the University of Nebraska, we will make sure more young children in our state grow up to be more successful in school and throughout life.”

NU President James B. Milliken noted that the university – through its Buffett Early Childhood Institute, established in 2011 with a generous gift from Susan Buffett – will have a regular presence at Educare of Lincoln. University faculty contributed to building design, curriculum at the center, furnishings and outdoor play spaces. The university also will provide master’s teachers, and faculty will lead program evaluation. Additionally, NU students will participate at Educare as part of their child development and early childhood education training.

“The University of Nebraska, through our Buffett Early Childhood Institute, is proud to be a partner in Lincoln’s first Educare center,” Milliken said. “We have significant history in early childhood education and we are well-positioned to provide expertise and resources to help change the lives of vulnerable children. The opening of Educare of Lincoln is a truly exciting development for the university and all our partners, the city and, most importantly, the children and families who will benefit.”

In addition to Buffett and Milliken, Gov. Dave Heineman, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, a number of community leaders and Dr. Sam Meisels – the newly announced founding executive director of the Buffett Institute – offered remarks at Friday’s celebration. The program also included a song from children from the Educare center and tours of the facility.

“Today, early childhood education is more important than ever, and for many children, Educare is their beginning opportunity to a great education,” Governor Heineman said. “I’ve seen firsthand the importance of early childhood education because my wife, Sally, was an elementary schoolteacher and principal for more than 30 years. Nebraska is a national leader in early childhood education, and because of these efforts, we can make a real difference for children.”

A local and national priority

The opening of Educare of Lincoln reinforces Nebraska’s position as a leader in area that is rapidly gaining national focus. It also coincides with ongoing conversations among Nebraska business leaders and policymakers about why investments in high-quality early childhood environments are a key strategy for enhancing the K-12 educational system, improving workforce quality, and building the strength of communities. As an open resource for parents, educators, researchers and policymakers, Nebraska’s Educare Network is positioned to improve the quality of early environments not only for children enrolled at the centers, but for families and providers throughout the state.

Early childhood education has long been a priority for the University of Nebraska, with faculty from all four campuses attracting national and international attention for their expertise in relevant areas like child and family studies, teacher education, nutrition, sociology, public health and others. Early childhood is one of six academic priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska.

Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said: “The Educare of Lincoln project is a unique partnership between higher education and the community, with everyone contributing and learning from everyone else. This is an experiment in how to design and manage the highest quality early childhood services for children and their families in a genuine team effort. It combines university priorities of teaching, research and outreach with community priorities of neighborhood and family involvement, bridging preschool and K-12 education, and serving children and families of highest need. There are exciting days ahead.”

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel said: “The new Educare program will have profound benefits for our state, our community, our schools and our young people. This powerful partnership underlies our school district’s long-standing belief in the importance of investing in early childhood education, as well as providing fertile ground for our teachers to learn more about best practices – now and for years to come.”

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