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Italian Center opens revamped early-learning center

September 19, 2018

STAMFORD — A year-and-a-half after a fire shut down its preschool, the Italian Center has opened a new and expanded early childhood education facility.

The Education Station opened this month, offering a year-round, extended-day program for up to 84 students. The facility is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and offers partial-day options for Italian Center members who also receive a tuition discount. The previous facility accommodated about 60 preschool-aged students and was open only during the school year until 4:30 p.m.

“We decided to extend hours and be year-round because it seemed more families needed extended care, but we wanted to stick with a play-based curriculum,” Early Childhood Education Director Lauren Secko-Pagan said.

Secko-Pagan said the center is slowly expanding its capacity and expects to have 45 children by January.

Secko-Pagan joined the Education Station last November and has developed a play-based learning program. She said she has a passionate staff of 21 mostly college students who are working toward their bachelor’s or associate’s degrees.

Secko-Pagan said she was influenced by “Mr. Rogers,” which is evident throughout the school that totes Dr. Seuss quotes on colorful walls, two playgrounds, a gross motor skills room filled with cushy toys for active children and plenty of puppets and play clothes.

“The Little Mermaid” soundtrack can be heard piping through the halls and preschoolers can be seen learning about sharing by playing with shiny pink dress-up clothes in a play kitchen.

“Early childhood is really about play,” Secko-Pagan said. “Play-based learning is the most important thing.”

Students begin taking Zumba and music classes at age 1 and start taking Spanish and swim classes when they are 3.

There is a waiting list for infants, 1s and 2s classrooms. Secko-Pagan aims to have about eight children and three staff members in each room. She said there are spots available for the preschool, which has about 20 students in each class.

“If we can over-staff as much as possible, this gives as much one-on-one time as possible,” she said. “It’s really important to have that extra set of hands. We want this place to be fun and positive.”

Niki MacDonald, a Norwalk resident, noticed the attention the staff gave her 1-year-old son as he struggled to adjust the first week. MacDonald said they allowed her son to spend time in the nursery as he tackled the transition and have taken note of his love of the outdoors and certain snacks to accommodate him.

“It really felt like his happiness is paramount and they will do whatever it takes to make my kid smile,” she said. “The small class size and the abundance of teachers and staff they have on hand allows for flexibility to do whatever it takes to make kids happy and enjoy their day.”

The additional staffing allows for a more personalized experience for parents who receive live updates from teachers through an app called Tadpoles. Teachers send parents information about activities their children are doing as well as photos and videos.

“Sending mom a picture home with a smile on his face makes a difference,” Secko-Pagan said.

Julie Fraser, a North Stamford mom, agrees. Fraser said she has been impressed with the regular updates since her 2-1/2-old son began at the Education Station when it opened two weeks ago.

“It helps adjusts my behaviors as a mom,” she said. “It’s really awesome and super technologically advanced, which I appreciate as a parent.”

Fraser was drawn to the Education Station because it was closer to her home, but said she’s been pleased with the new space and staff. The building has five classrooms and a sixth will open in December.

“The space is amazing,” Fraser said. “A lot of thought and care went into the staff, their energy and qualifications. They seem to really love children. If I have to leave my child somewhere, I want it to be with people who love him almost as much as I do.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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