Its classroom may be small, but Brookcreek Learning Center has played a large part in the educational development of many Lawrence and Douglas County children.
Brookcreek offers an early intervention program for preschool-aged children from low-income families. The center, one of 26 United Way of Douglas County agencies, is allocated $14,172 from this year's fund drive. The United Way funds are used for operating expenses and salaries.
Brookcreek's ability to serve children with special needs, such as behavioral problems and learning disabilities, is what sets it apart from other programs.
"We are the only full-day program in Lawrence, Kansas, that serves the children we do,'' said Darla Edmiston, director and teacher at Brookcreek. The center's low student-to-teacher ratio enables it to work with special-needs children.
"WE TRY to keep our ratios a little lower than state guidelines,'' Edmiston said.
The state requires one teacher for every 10 children. In its classroom of 22, Brookcreek has three to four instructors. This allows the center to give its children individualized care while still preparing them for the larger classrooms they will enter later.
"The idea is to integrate these children,'' said Esther Kottwitz, the original director of Brookcreek and currently a project trainer for an early intervention grant through the Kansas University Bureau of Child Research.
Kottwitz, who still is associated with the center as an adviser and board member, said that the importance of the program is to get children at a young age and teach them appropriate behavior, social and pre-academic skills.
"We try to give experiences that are not in the home setting,'' Edmiston said.
These include trips to the fire department, the county fair and even the grocery store. Children also are assigned positions of responsibility in the classroom as helpers. For many of the children, this is their first experience with a truly structured environment.
The center has grown from its beginnings when "it was more of a baby-sitting service,'' according to Edmiston. The change to an early intervention program was made in 1987 with Kottwitz as the director. Until last year, the center was a part of the Lawrence Housing Authority.
THE SPLIT from LHA currently is in progress. Although the center has established its own independent board, it still has ties to LHA. Brookcreek receives a grant from LHA. This subsidy will diminish as the center grows and becomes more independent.
Edmiston and Kottwitz said they are excited by the new board and the center's future.
Edmiston described the board members as "people in the community who can act as a resource.'' The board includes business and professional people.
Future goals for the center include a new building to accommodate more children and allow an expanded curriculum. The program has outgrown its current location in the Edgewood Homes public housing complex.
THROUGH other changes, the philosophy of the center has remained consistent. Its purpose is to help all of its students reach their highest potential. Kottwitz said that for many children the program at Brookcreek has either lessened or eliminated the need for special education when they reach kindergarten.
For many others, the confidence gained at Brookcreek is a key to success in public schools.
"I really stress to employees and volunteers that we need to give a lot of love and structure,'' Edmiston said.