Bridging Generations

Healthy child development is a family affair–and the teachers at Somersworth Early Learning Center are part of the family.

As I walked the halls of Somersworth Early Learning Center (SELC), heading towards the school age wing, I suddenly get a sense, mid-stride, that something has changed. Things suddenly just seem a bit…newer, fresher. It makes sense. The school age section was built in 2009, added to the original building, which opened its doors in 1992.

This multi-generational feeling goes beyond the infrastructure of the school; in fact, the culture of SELC is one of ongoing, high-quality child care, from when kids start in diapers to when they Snapchat after a long day of school.

“We look at the children as an extension of our family,” says Mandy Hussey, SELC Program Director. “These parents trust us to care for their most precious gift in life. We thank them for that every day.”

This approach transcends the child—for the staff at SELC, it’s about care for the entire family. And since 60% of the school’s enrollment comes from lower-income families who rely on state assistance (with the requisite that the parents must be working or in school or job-seeking), this holistic care is often needed and always appreciated.

“We tell everybody that we are here for their children and families for whatever they need,” says Dawn Collins, SELC’s Executive Director. “They will tell us ‘Thanks for the listening ear.’ We’ve had families literally break down and cry because we handed them one toy from the Toys for Tots program.”

Additionally, SELC participates in United Way’s K-Ready Kids backpack program, where kids receive backpacks and school supplies. They are small needs, but as Dawn and Mandy have seen through the years, it’s the accumulation of the little things that can bear down the hardest.

“It humbles me,” says Hussey. “I didn’t grow up with a lot of money but I never went without anything I needed. There are people out there who really struggle.”

Beyond backpacks and toys and pencils and notebooks there is a more powerful gift: a child developing on track. This makes SELC a valuable United Way partner agency (and a founding member of the New Hampshire State Early Learning Alliance)–the ongoing relationship between teachers, kids and families, the establishment of top-line curriculum and the continuation of learning in the home.

“I get to start that partnership from day one,” says Collins. “I’ve known some of our school age kids since they’ve been infants.”

As we conclude our conversation, we walk back to the school age wing and ask one of the girls in the program to pose for a quick photo with Dawn and Mandy. Her name is Megan and Dawn and Mandy have known her since she first enrolled as an infant. The three put on their best photo smiles and stand in that hallway, somewhere between the old building and the new, bridging a generation.