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Early Childhood Center ready to open in Sparta

Sparta — It’s bright. It’s large. It’s finished. The new Sparta Early Childhood Center is ready for move-in and expected to house summer programming for the district. The entire staff is “super-excited,” said Early Childhood Director Amy Waldron. 

“They are already planning so many new activities for our summer theme of ‘Animals Around the World,’” she said. “We will be able to do so much more than before and are already planning virtual tours and other fun surprises.”

Building plans for the former middle school, which first served as a district high school, include new offices and space for the district’s adult education programs. But the highlight of the renovated facility will boost programming for the district’s youngest residents.

A former courtyard that was rarely used during the building’s stint as a middle school is sure to get some use now. A new interactive playground with overhead doors will “bring the inside outside and the outside inside” with a push of a button, said Waldron. 

“We are so excited; this was slated to be part of phase two or three, but it was done during phase one,” she said. “We will be able to do so many fun, energetic and engaging activities in that space.”

Old locker bays have been redone into hallway benches with colorful add-ons

Day care and before- and after-school care will be housed in renovated space from two former classrooms, which can accommodate around 30 children at a time, said Superintendent Pete Bush. 

Seven large spaces have also been renovated to house the Great Start Readiness Program.

Since very young children learn by moving and interacting, enlarged classrooms are essential for learning, Waldron said.

“These rooms are brighter, larger and old locker space has been transformed into useful space,” Bush told the Board of Education as members took their first official tour of the facility.

Because children gain independence from managing their personal items, having this cubby-style storage inside classrooms can be useful for the education process, Waldron said.

Another big plus is that every classroom now has a restroom: “Having bathrooms in every classroom is so much better for staff, but more importantly, it helps the little ones to be more independent,” she said.

The building’s entrance doors have been reworked for secure entry, but also for a welcoming effect. Inside the doors, visitors will find the same terrazzo flooring as the rest of the building’s hallways, which are more than six decades old but still look shiny and new. 

“We chose to use the same look as the (entrance) at the new middle school (which opened in fall of 2020),” said Bush. 

Another renovation that stands out is an area that previously served as a gathering spot for the middle school. It has now been revamped as space for large group activities. “It is just phenomenal,” said Waldron. “This opens up a lot of possibilities.”

Because of the lack of space in the White Early Education Center, teachers had not been able to do activities with mixed ages, which is important for young children, said Waldron. The new spaces will help serve this purpose.

“Bringing kids into other classrooms helps them learn,” she said. “They get to know others and learn at an early age to feel comfortable with kids of all abilities and ages. If we can get them comfortable at ages three and four, it will likely carry over, and they know all children like the same things, even if they have to do it differently or in a different way.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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