By Lillian Linscott
The Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory at Grand Rapids Community College, located at 210 Lyon Street NE, is hosting an open house on Wednesday from 2:30 p.m to 4:30 p.m.
The Oct. 17 event will highlight the new art facility and show the community what they hope to accomplish with the new update. The learning laboratory is not only a place for children to learn and play, but also for college students pursuing a career in early childhood development.
“We are one of the few places in the state of Michigan that have the lab component for child development,” Maureen Milarch, interim director at The Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory said. “It’s really such a benefit…I was thinking back to my undergrad…and I didn’t work with children in a classroom until I was in the second semester of my junior year. So I keep telling these 118 students that I have right now, ’Here you are, it’s your very first semester at GRCC and you’re already working with children,’ I mean that is a huge, huge benefit to them. That’s a resume builder right there.”
Milarch spoke passionately about the opportunities available to students. Working at the center counts as a lab for students, just as science labs are included in some science classes. At first students just observe the classroom, learning how the class is run and how circumstances are resolved. As students progress through the program, they will interact with the children while being assisted and observed by non-student caregivers.
“Those 200 level classes culminate in a final project which is like an exam where they have to put all their activities together and pretty much run the classroom like a lead teacher would be, so they’re in charge for the two hours they’re there,” Milarch said. “hey basically show us what they can do at that point.”
There is a wide variety of children enrolled at the school. Enrollment at the center is not only open to GRCC students, but to the community as well. Some parents live so close by that they walk their children to school before beginning their day.
“We have different makeups of families, we do have some parents who are full-time students,” Milarch said. “We also have families that are made up of one or more parents that work for the college. There is no discount for that, but it’s convenient for them and they know that their children are well taken care of. So it’s worth it for them to be here. We have Great Start Readiness Program families who qualify for that program, the free preschool, due to needs and income… hen we have some neighborhood families. It’s just convenient for them, and then just people from the community. Maybe they’ve had children here in the past or their grandkids are going to school here and they used to have children here.”
Not only is the center open to many, it is also nature-based in its design. The colors in the building are colors that would occur naturally in the environment such as blues, greens, browns, etc. The playground assimilates this as well by incorporating innovative structures which include a garden.
“It’s been really interesting watching the children learn how to navigate (the playground), because it is unfamiliar,” Milarch said. “It doesn’t look like a regular playground and because the surfaces are a little bit trickier to navigate than some of the metal structures you might see at our old playground, over there on Fountain Street, it’s been interesting seeing the children deal with it and they do.”
The playground was designed with more in mind than the environment.
“You have to give the children that time to take risks so they can learn about their own body awareness and spatial awareness, and they’re never gonna learn that if you don’t give them the opportunities to do so,” Milarch said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do here, kinda bring it back to where it used to be.”