Early Learning Center opens in Inver Grove Heights

Construction of the new Inver Grove Heights Early Learning Center was completed Aug. 1. The school celebrated its grand opening Sept. 11. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Early Childhood Director Karen Sperl reads to students in the Community Preschool classroom on Sept. 11 during the grand opening of the Inver Grove Heights Early Learning Center. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Inver Grove Heights royalty worked on arts and crafts during the grand opening Sept. 11 of the Inver Grove Heights Early Learning Center. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Center added onto Hilltop Elementary

Thanks to extra funding from the Minnesota Department of Education, the Inver Grove Heights School District's new Early Learning Center, attached to Hilltop Elementary School, is now open for business. 

The learning center, which completed its $2.5 million construction and setup in August, has a separate entrance from Hilltop Elementary.  

While the new center will serve multiple purposes, its primary one is bringing early childhood education and pre-kindergarten training to young children. 

The new facility is under Northern Dakota County TriDistrict Community Education, an umbrella organization formed by three area school districts — Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul and the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area — to provide lifelong learning opportunities for local residents. 

One prime reason behind the new construction was the lack of options for parents of 3- and 4-year-olds who wanted to prepare their children for kindergarten. According to TriDistrict Community Education director Dr. Bernadette MacKenzie, very few states have pre-K facilities like this, and its construction is a step in the right direction for the district and the state. 

"The main driver was the fact that we needed to educate more 3- and 4-year-olds to make sure they were kindergarten-ready. 

"Due to some new funding sources, and additional funding from the Department of Education, we were able to expand preschool for the families that probably traditionally wouldn't have entered a preschool program," MacKenzie said. "The idea is that we are keeping our 4-year-old programming at the school." She said parents want to make those relationships with educators before their kids start kindergarten.

The decision to create the new Early Learning Center at Hilltop Elementary, which is located at 3201 68th St. E., came, in part, because it was the most cost-effective option. According to a press release, Inver Grove Heights Community Schools "explored multiple options for placement of an Early Childhood Program space." Eventually, it was decided that adding onto Hilltop Elementary was the best choice. 

"It's to provide early learning services within the district, and to (make sure) the community has that access," said superintendent Dave Bernhardson. "Having it connected to an elementary school helps give it that school identity."

MacKenzie agreed, while also mentioning that District 199 has had a positive history of cooperating on early childhood programming with South St. Paul. 

"We've leased (space) for many years with South St. Paul, and it has always gone well," she said. "We were looking for a permanent site. Additionally, Hilltop also had the most space."

In addition to the learning component for the children, MacKenzie said District 199 and the new learning center staff would be in communication with local daycare facilities on "expectations for kindergarten readiness." 

One separating point between the new Early Learning Center and other schools may be the parent education component, known as "early family education." 

The new facility will start a class with parents and children in a combined classroom. After about 20 minutes, the parents and children split up for separate activities. 

While there is no way to fully prepare oneself for parenthood, MacKenzie explains, there are a ways to get close. 

"There's no handbook for parenting. Everybody needs help; everybody needs a piece here and there." 

You can reach Tim Faklis at 651-748-7814, at tfaklis@lillienews.com, or on Twitter @tfaklisnews.


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