The Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 Board of Education recently approved renovation and construction plans for an Early Learning Center (ELC) and Family Resource Center at the former Gaddis School and current administrative building.
Construction will begin soon with the goal of having the ELC ready for tours by June 15, 2024.
Included in the plans for the 93rd Street and Keeler Avenue location is the renovation of 10 classroom spaces, making them more friendly and suitable for preschoolers, a gymnasium with natural light, and a secure outdoor area for the children to play and learn. There will also be a complete reconfiguration of the office area.
As safety is always a priority, a public access road will wrap around the building to allow for a pick-up and drop-off process away from traffic.
The addition of a Community Family Resource Center to the existing administrative building will also provide families with the opportunity to engage with additional parent education opportunities. The primary goal of the resource center is to support the community as well as the students with a staff of parent-focused educators.
“We are aiming to create an atmosphere that is not only welcoming to children but also embraces the spirit of our community. The ELC focuses on our youngest learners, while also valuing family and community engagement. The goal for the space is to evoke a sense of belonging and warmth as people enter,” Superintendent Dr. Paul Enderle said.
The overall construction project and programming is overwhelmingly funded by an Illinois State Board of Education early childhood grant with additional community funds appropriated by the District 123 Board of Education.
Currently, the ELC has established partnerships with the Oak Lawn Public Library, Children’s Museum, the local Head Start Program, the Oak Lawn Park District, and local child care centers. Administrators are also striving to build a partnership with Advocate Children’s Hospital.
The Early Learning Center will provide a half day program with both morning and afternoon sessions.
“We’re putting an emphasis on nature and ensuring that all children can participate and play in these environments. We’re going to have an inclusive spirit; inclusion is the North Star of our program,” Christine Fuller, Supervisor for Special Education, said.
Each classroom will be staffed with a teacher and two paraprofessionals. All of the teachers are dually certified in special education and early childhood education with endorsements in English Learning. A full-time social worker, occupational therapist, and speech pathologist will also be on staff.
The ELC will be providing a transitional bilingual educational experience in three classrooms with a teacher who is bilingual in Spanish, and administrators are working toward staffing an additional classroom with a teacher who is bilingual in Arabic.
Going from eight preschool programs spread throughout four schools to having one building dedicated to early learning will be a seamless and beneficial transition for the community’s children.
“We’re all going to be together now and be able to share our resources and engage in curriculum implementation together,” Fuller said. “There’s going to be a lot of wonderful educational growth from what our teachers are going to learn from each other.”
Registration is an ongoing process and is currently open on the district’s website at d123.org/earlylearning.
“There’s not one child that has made a request for preschool that we as a district have not found a spot for,” Fuller said. “We’re going way above and beyond to support the needs of children in the district between the ages of 3, 4, and 5.”
District 123 hopes to be an oasis for early learning support with the anticipation to provide services for children in the 0-3 population in the future. There will be many phases to come as the District looks at the potential to expand the current program.
A focus on a project-based curriculum will provide the area’s youngest learners with a high quality education, fitting within the “Whole Child Success” and “Active Learning” theme from the District 123 Strategic Plan.
“Ultimately our goal is to prepare our kids today for a world they’re going to face tomorrow, and in order to do that, we need to leverage an opportunity to work with our youngest learners in concert with the community,” Enderle said. “The earlier we expose our early learners and their families to a high-quality curriculum, our amazing staff, and a wonderful learning environment, the more we can get them ready and prepared for kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school. The earlier we can engage our students, the better off they’re going to be in the future.”