Early Childhood Development Center serves tri-campus children
Caroline Collins | Monday, May 1, 2023
The tri-campus community is home to college students, but it is also the site of the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), which provides early childhood education for affiliated families and members of the South Bend community.
Sophomore Shelby Johnson works with the two-year-olds and four-year-olds at ECDC.
“They color me pictures, and I [hang] them up above my desk. I’ll ask them to write their names, and it’s like a backwards ‘S.’ It’s really cute,” Johnson said.
ECDC is a non-profit early childhood program that serves children ages two through six during the school year. Over the summer, ECDC offers summer camp programs for children ages two through 10.
The center was founded in 1971 and is accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
ECDC has two sites on the tri-campus: the Notre Dame site which is open to families affiliated with the University, and the Saint Mary’s site that serves both families affiliated with the University and families from the greater community.
Kari Alford, the executive director of ECDC, said about 270 children are enrolled in the program between the two sites. The center offers both half-day and full-day childcare options. The flexibility allows families to choose the option that best fits their needs, Alford said.
“We really want children to be able to be with their parents or to be with their family members if they’re able to, and we also want them to have some preschool experiences,” Alford said. “And so for some families, that part-time opening is really what they’re looking for.”
The center employs students from Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. Both student teachers and volunteers play a large role in the community at ECDC.
Alford said many students who work at the center during their time in college choose to pursue a career in early childhood education, and some return to ECDC as full-time teachers after graduation.
“If any college students are ever looking for service hours or thinking about education or the early childhood field, they can volunteer for one or two hours a week. And then if they love it, they can work for us or extend those hours. It’s a great way for them to learn about early childhood and volunteer at a nonprofit organization,” Alford said.
Johnson said every time she returns from ECDC, she has a funny story or moment to share with her friends.
“I have loved being around kids, and they offer such a refreshing perspective … they’re also endlessly entertaining,” Johnson said.
The children love playing games like musical chairs, house, doing arts and crafts and playing on the playground outside, Johnson said. Most of the activities the children participate in aren’t very structured, allowing them to explore their surroundings by engaging in dramatic play where they take on roles and act them out.
During her time working at ECDC, Johnson has formed relationships with the children she teaches and has also formed relationships with their families, she said.
“The most validating thing about the job is when I have worked there a long enough time or have made enough of an impression on them that even at two or four-years-old they start to remember my name,” Johnson said.
Alford said the most rewarding part about working at ECDC is getting to know the children and their families.
“Early childhood is really all about [forming] relationships,” Alford said. “It’s so rewarding. No day is the same. It’s always different.”