Butler University College of Education (COE) has received a $100,000 grant from the PNC Foundation that will allow preschool classes to be offered through the Indianapolis Public School/Butler University Laboratory School, a new magnet elementary opening at IPS No. 60 this fall.

Through the grant, the COE will contract St. Mary’s Child Center, an Indianapolis not-for-profit early childhood education program, to provide preschool services at the Lab School.

St. Mary’s Executive Director Connie Sherman said 31 children ages 3-5 will be served in the Lab School’s preschool classroom. Twenty-two will attend half-day classes (11 in the morning, and 11 in the afternoon).  Nine children will attend full day.

Ron Smith, who will serve as the new magnet’s “head of school,” said preschool applicants will first be recruited from the Fall Creek Mapleton and Butler Tarkington communities near IPS No. 60. “If the spots do not fill from within those communities, students from other communities are also welcome,” he said.

The PNC Foundation, which is funded by The PNC Financial Services Group, supports service organizations in communities where PNC has a significant business presence.

“The PNC Financial Services Group is happy to expand its support for early education in the state of Indiana,” said Jeff Kucer, senior vice president at PNC. “Investing in our children is simply the right thing to do, for our communities; and the economic health of our region and our nation,” he added.

Smith expressed appreciation for the PNC grant, saying the firm’s partnership with IPS, Butler and St. Mary’s “will demonstrate how the business community, private organizations, universities and public schools can collaborate to offer high quality services to families and children.”  

The Lab School, which opens Aug. 8, will initially serve students in preschool, kindergarten and Grade 1. Each year, a grade will be added up to Grade 5. Butler education faculty and students will be an active presence in the school, helping develop and implement curricula while documenting student work.

St. Mary’s 50 Years of Experience Now in its 50th year of operation, St. Mary’s has a long history of providing high quality early learning experiences to young children, many of whom live in poverty. St. Mary’s schools have been influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy for more than 10 years. The Reggio philosophy is a major focus for the Lab School.

“The schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, have been hailed by Newsweek magazine as the best preschools in the world,” said Sherman. “Important elements of the Reggio philosophy include encouragement of a strong image of the child as a competent, capable learner; the role of the environment-as-teacher; the multiple symbolic languages of children; project work; the teacher as a researcher who documents learning; and the development of strong collaborative relationships.

“Within this philosophy, the children of St. Mary’s Child Center are fully engaged, learning and doing amazing work,” she said.

Sherman and Smith have worked together previously in the Indianapolis Reggio Collaborative. St. Mary’s Child Center and Warren Early Childhood Center of MSD Warren Township, which Smith directs currently, were founding members of the collaborative, along with Butler’s College of Education and The Early Learning Centers of MSD Lawrence Township.

“This new collaboration will allow families to access preschool, elementary school and wrap-around childcare services at the Lab School,” Smith said. “Each of these services will be Reggio inspired.”

PNC’s Grow Up GreatButler Dean of Education Ena Shelley said PNC “is a true champion of the youngest Hoosiers and of educational options that work for all students.”

Through its signature cause, Grow Up Great, PNC has created a 10-year, $100 million initiative to enhance early childhood education and school readiness. Gifts have included a $700,000 grant to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to offer preschool instruction at the museum. 

Shelley said PNC Senior Vice President Jeff Kucer became interested in Reggio-Emilia techniques for early childhood education after viewing an internationally renowned exhibit that COE and the Indianapolis Reggio Collaborative brought to Indianapolis in 2009 titled the Wonder of Learning.

“Jeff joined me in testifying before an Indiana State Senate Committee last summer about the importance of providing a strong educational start for children,” Shelley said. The Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children honored PNC’s activism with its Outstanding Corporate Award on April 8.

In 2009, PNC gave another $100,000 grant to Butler to establish the PNC Early College Scholarship Fund for Shortridge Magnet High School junior and seniors to attend Butler for early college credit. The first beneficiaries of that grant – a possible 40 eligible Shortridge juniors – will begin taking classes on the Butler campus this fall.

Media contact: Mary Ellen Stephenson(317) 940-6944mestephe@butler.edu

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