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Educare closes in on new home


DURING THE YEARS I WROTE MY syndicated column, "Juggling Jobs and Kids," one of the issues parents most frequently asked about was how to find a good preschool. From Tucson to upstate New York, and all points in between, parents were determined to find the best possible programs for their young children.

I always felt a little guilty answering these worried parents. Truth be told, our kids were thriving in one of the best preschool programs locally available, Humboldt Educare in Arcata.

That was a lifetime ago for our family. But the good news is that this intelligent, creative, supportive and downright loving program continues to provide what every child needs. But maybe Educare's longevity shouldn't come as a surprise. As my dear old Granny used to say, "cream always rises to the top." And Humboldt Educare is pure cream.

Opened 25 years ago by Sarah Anderson, Humboldt Educare has impacted the lives of approximately 550 children and their families. The program is based on a sound educational philosophy that truly prepares the children for kindergarten. The staff is well-trained and tremendously caring. Educare kids benefit from the unusually high ratio of one teacher per 5.5 children. Educare families benefit from the flexible schedule and the affordable fees.

This is a program that reaches far outside its walls, taking full advantage of the community it serves. It is a part of our town. When I said this to Director Margann Fabian, she beamed: "Educare IS Arcata." She went on to explain how much of their curriculum is integrated into every corner of the city. "We have field trips to the Fire and Police Departments, the Co-op, the Natural History Museum, Arcata's library and the marsh. Our kids are involved in the city's Parks and Recreation Program." She paused a moment, recalling an outing she obviously enjoyed, "Why, we've even been known to take a small group of children to the Jacoby Storehouse to ride the elevator. Everybody gets to push a button. After all, kids need to know about elevators!"

Fabian continued, "Sometimes we ride the bus, yet another learning experience. The staff might take kids to the pet store to buy food for the school's fish or go to the Chinese restaurant to get dishes for our celebration of Chinese New Year. We truly belong to this community."

The kids who attend Educare have plenty to say about why they like their school. RJ likes "playing outside. I liked it when we saw owls." Lily comes to school and thinks "about people." Mila says, "I like the plants at Educare. They make me feel good." Annie likes "to rest and I like learning about loving friends." Lucas beams, "It's THE place for blocks." Bryce "likes to draw tigers. And maybe some pups for the tigers." Educare kids are happy kids.

The Educare board, staff and parents have been hard at work on a project that represents this organization's dedication to providing a quality preschool program. Housed from the start on Union Street, Educare is now working on building a new home, since its current lease is non-renewable. Due to the remarkable efforts of many, they are within striking range, having made an offer on an undeveloped property near the existing school.

Fabian had every reason to be proud when she told me that their fund-raising efforts over the last four years have so far netted $91,000. I was more than a little stunned. How could it be that a preschool, traditionally one of the more under-funded entities in the current culture, would have that much money in the bank? From what Fabian said, it must be because of the vision shared by so many. "Our board, our families, are amazing. We all want what is best for the children of Arcata. We have another 550 children over the next 25 years in mind."

Staff and parents put on an annual art auction and wine tasting event and "the very fun `Moms' Night Out,' a white elephant auction." There is the T-shirt sale and, in addition, these dedicated folks have sold hundreds of pieces of jewelry donated by Tomas.

Which brings up something else. Support from local businesses is strong; many stand ready, for example, to donate building supplies, paint and labor for the new school -- all of which should help keep the mortgage payment down. It's also worth noting that local architect Joyce Plath designed the planned facility pro bono -- there's someone who puts her talents to good use.

(It remains to be seen whether it turns out as everyone at Educare hopes. The plan to build the new facility is part of a larger project that includes building housing in a wetlands area. Even though marsh land will be preserved, the Arcata Planning Commission and City Council have not yet given their approval. Stay tuned).

After hearing about where Educare had been and where it might be going, I was curious about some of the program's graduates. Fabian thought for a moment: "Oh, I know of one who works for a local contractor, one who is an artist living in New York, another is a musician in San Francisco. One of our kids is now a teacher at Eureka High and another is studying medicine at UCLA. I heard of one graduate who is studying at the University of Edinburgh."

It's impossible to know just how much impact Humboldt Educare had on any of these young adults. But from my own experience, I can tell you that this fine little preschool is surely one of the many building blocks it takes to get a child off to a great start in life. And like that cream, those with a good start tend to rise to the top.



North Coast Journal Weekly

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