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Montclair Child Development Center
PHOTO COURTESY SUSAN CHABERSKI/MONTCLAIR CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER Children play outside at Montclair Child Development Center. The center is marking 50 years since it was designated as a Head Start center serving children and families in the Montclair area.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Child Development Center (MCDC) was officially designated as a Head Start center in 1969. Since that time, approximately 10,000 children have graduated from the facility.

Today, the center has one of its facilities in the former Minnie Lucey School on Baldwin Street in Glen Ridge, just over Montclair’s town line. A second facility is located on William Street in Orange, with the program’s administrative offices are in Montclair.

There will be a celebratory gala to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary at the Pleasantdale Chateau in West Orange on Nov. 7. All of the funds raised during the gala will go to benefit the center’s programs.

Head Start is a federally-funded program that aids children from birth up to age five from low-income families, and helps children be prepared to start school. Head Start provides services ranging from preschool lessons to health screenings, social services, and nutritional programs.

A NEED IS MET

At the time of the school’s founding in the 1960s, the civil rights movement was well underway, and Montclair was trying to address the issue of segregation in the district’s schools.

The Head Start program had its start in five classrooms at Glenfield Middle School in the 1960s, with 75 children enrolled. Since parents felt at the time the Board of Education was not allowing them to have a voice in matters related to the Head Start program, the Montclair Child Development Corporation was formed.

At one point, according to a history of the school provided by the staff, the Montclair Board of Education made the decision to move the program to classrooms on the school’s basement level, a move that the staff said did not suit the needs of the children. The MCDC filed a lawsuit against the BOE, the then-superintendent of schools and the township, alleging racial discrimination. The MCDC won the suit, and the BOE returned the original classrooms, and provided office space as well, to the Head Start program in 1969. The program had 75 children and 16 staff, and a $100,000 operating budget.

The program moved to the Minnie Lucey School in 1982.

Today, the program receives $6.9 million annually in federal Head Start funding and provides services to a total of 490 children from Montclair, Bloomfield, West Orange and Orange.

Families with incomes below the poverty level are eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start services. Certain Head Start providers also enroll a percentage of families whose incomes are above the poverty guidelines as well. And foster children are eligible, regardless of their foster family’s income.

Early childhood education services such as Head Start have been deemed essential to school readiness, and to help close the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers.

PARENTS PART OF THE SOLUTION

Samantha Loguidice became involved with MCDC as a parent in the classroom — reading to children, helping with art projects and other activities. “It was my way of saying thank you,” she said.

Her son is now 6-years-old, but she continues her work with MCDC serving on the center’s policy committee, and is also a New Jersey Head Start Association board member, as well the chair of the association’s Parent Affiliate.

MCDC enabled her to find affordable child care for her son while she finished her degree studies. Her son is a good student, especially in math and writing, which Loguidice credits to his time at MCDC.

“I definitely found my way and my path through MCDC,” she said.

Hitomi Rogers began volunteering as a parent at MCDC when her two sons, now in elementary and middle school, were small. She turned to MCDC when she found that day care was too expensive. She worked as a teacher’s aide in the classroom, helping with cleanup, art projects and other activities. The MCDC staff encouraged her to apply for an assistant teacher’s position that had just opened up.

Today, Rogers is an office administrator with MCDC, and she is among the staffers that helps parents register their children for classes.

“They truly live up to their mission statement,” Rogers said of MCDC. The school provided her with work that advanced her career, and it gave her children a good foundation for school and for life. “I believe that MCDC did embrace them.”

Rogers recalled the annual start-of-year barbecue her family attended when her first child entered MCDC. Executive Director Tanya Poteat sent Rogers a photo of her family that had been taken at the barbecue, along with a note. The gesture touched Rogers, especially considering that MCDC serves more than 400 students each year.

BEYOND SHAPING MINDS

The center also provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for children during the day, and the health and nutrition team conducts vision and hearing screenings for each child.

The MCDC partners with local organizations, Executive Director Tanya Poteat said, including the Montclair public schools, Montclair State University, Montclair YMCA, which provides swimming and water safety lessons, and the Montclair Art Museum.

In addition to the gala, which the MCDC has been planning for a year, the MCDC has been doing other activities to mark the 50th anniversary. The school hosted a family barbecue in Glenfield Park on Sept. 21, with over 1,000 people, including current and former families, in attendance.

“I have been privileged to engage and grow with thousands of children and their families served by MCDC. I am equally privileged to share this love for children and families with an incredible, selfless dedicated team who earn little and still give much,” said Poteat.

The funds raised from the gala will go to programs such as a summer learning program, upgrading the technology in all three of the buildings, and to make repairs and maintenance to MCDC’s aging facilities.

Among its newer ventures, MCDC is preparing to launch a new music program for young children, the Dr. Byerte W. Johnson Institute for Music, Poteat said.

“We invite the community to join MCDC in recognizing its 50th year milestone and to celebrate its past and present by thanking the dedicated women and men who make up the beauty that is MCDC,” MCDC Board Chair Ronald Murphy said in a statement.

For more information about the gala and the 50th anniversary celebrations, visit the MCDC’s website at mcdcnj.org.

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