Sault College celebrated the official grand opening of the new home of its Early Learning Centre on Thursday morning. This centre – currently in its 45th year – was recently moved to the college to continue its long history of offering welcoming, respectful and stimulating early learning as well as offering a real-life learning environment to anyone taking the Early Childhood Education (ECE) course at the college.
This $2 million project took two years to complete, and now, the new location allows the Centre to increase the amount of childcare spaces it offers, accommodating 80 children, with the addition of 10 new infant spots and eight new preschool spots. The Centre now has a total of 10 infant (0-18 months), 30 toddler (18-30 months) and 40 preschool spots (31 months – 5 years), and also runs the before and after school care programs at St. Paul’s School for children four to 12 years of age.
“It’s extremely important for the children to get the early learning experiences that we’re looking at here, and I’m quite excited by the fact that, adjacent to us is Algoma Public Health, and they’re able to come in and work here as well,” said Sault College President Dr. Ron Common. “So this is a very unique situation. Early childhood education students studying how to be teachers – the daycare component, and then utilizing agencies in the community to come in in terms of helping parents as well.”
Common said he hopes that this will encourage people to both come and stay in the Sault after they’re completed college.
“Part of this facility is not a daycare – it’s an early learning centre, where our early childhood education students – and there’s tremendous opportunities for jobs in that area – they can come here and fulfill their practical requirements and not leave the community to do that.”
As well as a childcare facility, the centre will also serve as a learning lab for the ECE students. The staff work collaboratively with the faculty of the program to ensure the students are getting an experiential learning experience that can help them find employment after college.
“What we’re looking at is it’s going to almost be a feeder system for early childhood educators through a quality program that can start to go into the workforce,” said Sault Ste. Marie Social Services CAO Mike Nadeau. “We’re going to see it as a strategy for improving the overall quality of the entire system within the community.”
Another important point both Common and Nadeau brought up, was the fact that the population of Indigenous students at Sault College that have to leave their communities to attend school, taken together with the childcare aspect, may help them in their decision-making process.
“We have over a thousand out-of-town students that come to Sault College – many of them have families, children, and for them to relocate, leave their community, their family supports, they need to know that they’ve got child care taken care of. So that then they can enroll at Sault College and succeed,” Common said. “Over 20 per cent of our students at Sault College are Aboriginal, and they’re leaving their home communities to come here.”
“Currently Sault College is our Indigenous childcare provider as well, so they have a high focus and a high concentration on the Indigenous community to ensure that there’s an Indigenous perspective built throughout their system.” Nadeau added. “So it’s a great great program, and we’re really fortunate that the board of directors, the president and the entire staff fully recognize the strategic importance and the community importance of childcare.”
“It’s finally really nice to see this come to fruition,” Nadeau continued. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of putting multiple pieces together across multiple systems, but we did it.”