CINCINNATI -- For exactly 35 years, Cincinnati Early Learning Center (CELC) has been an area leader in early childhood education.
A nationally accredited nonprofit, CELC is a United Way agency that manages seven “Step Up to Quality” early learning centers in Greater Cincinnati. Hamilton County’s only early childhood education organization to have all sites five-star rated, CELC provides child care for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years and is committed to serving families and children at or near poverty levels.
CELC is preparing to open a third state-of-the-art early learning center in Price Hill, which will benefit more than a hundred children. Support for the initiative has been very positive, and funding has come from numerous foundations. The organization’s existing learning centers in Price Hill are The Robert & Adele Early Learning Centers I and II at the Oyler School. The centers feature Nature Playscape areas, with a stage, garden environment and small hills to climb.
For Patti Gleason, president and CEO, empowering and educating children is a calling. She believes in CELC’s mission to have model childhood education programs to help set children on a path to lifetime learning and achievements.
“We are a single purpose. Our only purpose for this nonprofit agency is early childhood education,” Gleason said. “All of our sites are very diverse, both racially and economically. And I think early childhood programs have a wonderful opportunity to be a bridge to community.”
For example, when CELC started out with its main site in East Walnut Hills, 100 percent of the families were low-income. While the centers are inclusive of all children regardless of race and income level, more than half of member families live in poverty.
Now CELC has expanded, with 500 students total, at sites in East Walnut Hills, East End, Harrison, Lower Price Hills (two centers), Downtown at YWCA, and at Future Environments located at the Environmental Protection Agency in Clifton.
“All parents want a quality early childhood program for their children, so it is a natural place they will come to,” said Gleason.
CELC has helped more than 12,000 children prepare for kindergarten since opening the doors of the first center in Harrison in 1981.
“We have had a history of quality -- that has been the focus and the driving fact to always maintain that quality. We have a strong philosophical basis for how we believe children learn. And when we make decisions, we go back to that philosophy,” Gleason said.
The philosophy is simple and consistent, and all teachers are trained the same way. Twenty-five staff members have been with the organization for more than a decade, and 11 have been there for two decades.
CELC has a student-to-teacher ratio of 30-to-1, and there are 30 to 40 names on waiting lists at any given time.
Every child who attends CELC has an individual plan and specific goal set by his teacher and shared with parents. This allows children to learn through group activities, as well as working on individual activities with teachers and at home.
“We need to ensure that children, whether they are 6 months or 4 years old, are developmentally on target, which helps ensure that they have later school success,” said Gleason. “Early learning is not just this little moment in time when they are learning their ABCs. Communication skills, problem-solving and strong social skills are the cornerstones for strong childhood development.”
Teachers use “cause and effect activities” to teach students. Gleason shared some examples: “If you press this, that will pop up. If you build a ramp, that will happen, or if you build a roller coaster, how high will it go?”
To commemorate the 35th year of operation, CELC will host a birthday party at The Bell Center. Jon-Paul Bianchi of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will be the keystone speaker, and longtime supporters Robert and Adele Schiff will be honored.