South Rome Early Learning Center’s first three months have been a time of adjustment, learning — for both children and staff — and joy.
“I’m learning about dinosaurs,” said 4-year-old Aliyah Lo. “I like the Smartboard and the sand table the best. We dance, we watch stories and we sing.”
Aliyah sings and wiggles in time to the “Peanut Butter, Jelly” song as she talks about her days at the ELC.
“My brother loves that song too,” she said, smiling.
Alayah Brown, also 4, said she enjoys learning about shapes and numbers.
“We learn a lot, but we have fun,” she added.
The ELC, housed in a hallway in the new Anna K. Davie Elementary School at the corner of South Broad and East Main streets, is a cooperative effort between Rome City Schools, Berry College and South Rome Redevelopment. The school offers young children a jumpstart on their education.
The center is the first classroom experience for 20 3- to 4-year-old students. Teachers hired by Berry College teach the class and the ELC and Berry College Child Development Center Director Ann Tankersley splits her time between the ELC and Berry.
“I’m so appreciative of the way the center is being received,” she said. “The parents are expressing so much happiness with the way things are going.”
This is the first time such a center has been housed in a public school and it has caused a period of adjustment, Tankersley admits.
“Well, there are more interruptions during the day,” she laughed. “The first fire drill was an experience.”
The school, which also houses students from pre-K through sixth grade, can be much noisier than the typical place someone would find 3- and 4-year-olds.
The ELC students take naps during the day, she explained, which also can be a challenge.
“From noon to 2 p.m. is the sacred time,” she said, smiling. “Getting a roomful of young children quiet and relaxed enough to nap is always a challenge, but the intercom can make it interesting.”
However, even with the extra noise, the school is a welcoming, happy place to be for Tankersley and ELC lead teacher Allyson Chambers, they said.
“During the fall festival, our classroom was the pumpkin patch,” said Chambers. “Everyone here makes sure we are involved.”
Many of the ELC students get to enjoy seeing their older siblings during the day, too, added Cayce Jacobson, assistant teacher.
“They love waving to their big brothers and sisters and the other kids they know,” she said.
Jacobson added that the response the students are having to the curriculum is a joy to see.
“They learn so much and pick so much up so quickly,” she said. “Parents comment on how much they talk about what they learn.”
School skills are some of the most important things they are trying to teach now, according to Tankersley.
“So many teachers in the pre-K came to us and said they were just thankful to see that we are teaching them about behavior in a school, because that makes a big difference,” she said. “They are learning to work independently and in a group and they are learning about walking in a line and paying attention. That is a large part of what helps them be successful students later.”
Tiara Barrett, mother of one of the students, said she thinks the ELC is a great opportunity for her daughter.
“I like it because it is not just a daycare,” she said. “They are really learning things and every day she comes to me and tells me what they do.”
Barrett said she notices her little girl changing every day.
“I can tell by the way she teaches school to her baby dolls,” laughed Barrett. “She’s the teacher and she’s always in charge. The way she lines them all up and teaches them real things, it’s different.”
ELC staff plans to add another classroom next year, Tankersley said. Original plans were to add a room in January — the hallway has three classrooms devoted to the ELC — however, because of the adjustments they had to make, Tankersley said officials decided to wait.
“We already have several applications for next year,” she said. “Response has been strong. Most of our students have some sort of scholarship funding, and while we have some on reserve, we felt the children would be better served by concentrating on the first classroom and using those funds for next year.”
Tankersley was ordering furniture and materials for the second classroom last week, she said. Two more teachers will be hired as well, she added.
“We plan to officially start enrollment in early spring,” said Tankersley. “We want time for our new teachers to meet all the parents. It is such a cooperative effort at this age because the parents are a big part of the center’s success.”