Celebrating Early Childhood, Expanding Opportunity
A note from Rochelle Bea – Co-Founder and Executive Director, Beginning Futures Learning Center
Working in education might not come with fame and fortune, but my students make me feel like an education rock star. When I see the smiles on the faces that come through our door every morning, the reward is much bigger than a platinum album; I can’t help but be inspired by their boundless energy, fearless creativity, and the thrill of discovery they find in every-day moments. Sure, there may be some tears or cranky faces some mornings, but often a hug, a patient ear, and practice talking about our feelings can turn things around. My colleagues are pretty amazing too; their passion for their work is infectious.
As the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Beginning Futures Learning Center in Walnut Park, I spend my days with an incredible staff and 120 wonderful children ages birth to five. My sister and I founded Beginning Futures in 2008 to meet a deep need for increased access to early childhood programs we saw in our community. We grew up in North St. Louis City, at Margaretta and Newstead, and reared our children in a neighboring community as well. We experienced first-hand how hard it can be to find affordable, high-quality childcare and pre-K programs close to home. As a social worker at Prince Hall Family Support Center, I knew how much young children could benefit from supportive environments that encourage them to build the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional foundations they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond. What’s more, families win when they can tap into a supportive school community with access to social services and other resources.
We’ve made it our mission at Beginning Futures to be that hub of learning and source of unbounded possibilities in our community. Yet there are many more families searching for a great early education for their children. IFF’s report First Step to Equity identifies our ZIP code as the area of St. Louis with the greatest shortage of early learning seats and recommends the city focus its investments on increasing access to high-quality programs in this footprint. To help bridge this gap, we’re working with partners like Navigate STL Schools to develop families’ knowledge of healthy child development and Kindergarten readiness. We’re growing our effectiveness with the support of IFF’s Stronger Nonprofits initiative and capacity building grants from the STL Pre-K Cooperative in partnership with the PNC Foundation and the Saigh Foundation. We’re also growing our program to reach more families. We’ve established partnerships with Lift For Life Academy and Confluence Academies through the STL Pre-K Cooperative to open new classrooms. Later this month, we expect to close on the purchase of our second location on Natural Bridge with plans to grow to serve 200 students.
This Week of the Young Child, as we celebrate our dedicated early childhood educators, loving families, and this formative stage of life, we’ll keep working towards a future when every child, regardless of their family income or the ZIP code they call home, experiences the excellent early childhood education all kids deserve.