PHOTOS: The "magic" of Marygrove's Early Ed CenterThe award-winning facility offers families one stop for education and wellness

In its second school year, the Marygrove Early Education Center works to provide a holistic educational experience for students, teachers, and families. Its state-of-the-art facility, designed in collaboration with parents, providers, and community members, recently received international recognition.

This fall, the Kresge Foundation won a distinguished architecture award for commissioning the center's design, which opened last August as part of a broad-based partnership to transform the former Marygrove College footprint into an innovative cradle-to-career educational campus.

Detroit Program Managing Director Wendy Lewis Jackson accepted the award for Kresge in Vicenza, Italy, along with architect Marlon Blackwell. She applauded the work of the Blackwell team for engaging with the community to create "a transformational space that demonstrates dignity for young children." 
Kresge Detroit Program Managing Director Wendy Lewis Jackson and architect Marlon Blackwell receive Dedalo Minosse award citations. At left is Dr. Valentina Galan, Director of Cultural Heritage and Activities of the Veneto Region. Courtesy of Kresge.
"It's a magnificent and integral part of a neighborhood working to revive," she said. "This really underscores the value of well-designed public projects like Marygrove Early Education Center and the positive educational impact it provides for its communities — with dignity, wonder, and joy!"

Kresge was one of four non-Italian winners to take home a Dedalo Minosse award and the only U.S. winner. The prizes, awarded since 1997, celebrate the unique connection between client and architect necessary to create inspiring architecture.

That inspiration shows in the center's vibrant terra cotta cladding, sun-soaked classrooms, hallways, and the surprising balance the modern 22,000-square-foot center strikes with its Tudor Gothic surroundings.

Starfish Family Services operates the center, implementing and testing new best practices that providers and communities can replicate regionally and nationally. Starfish Chief Development Officer Jody Waits calls the space "amazing," but the magic, she says, is the integration of education and wellness happening inside.

Starfish Chief Development Officer Jody Waits with Senior Donor Relations Specialist Peggy Kaczmarek in teachers' atrium at the center. "We hope what we learn here becomes something we can replicate across Starfish and the overall movement and professionalization of early childhood education, which often gets tagged as babysitting," she says. "If there's anything we learned from COVID-19, education and mental wellness at this point are pretty impossible to untether."

Model D's team spent the afternoon with Waits and Starfish staff and teachers, visiting classrooms, playgrounds, behavioral health rooms, and community spaces to learn about the magic behind this innovative model. 

Starfish Family Services is celebrating nearly 60 years. The nonprofit human service agency is focused on education through Head Start and the Great Start to Readiness Program and behavioral health services for infants through age 20.

The University of Michigan and Starfish developed the center's curriculum focusing on literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), social justice and racial empowerment.
Using U of M's curriculum, Waits says, "You might have a three-year-old who is truly having their day designed to both read "The Hungry Caterpillar", but also start to identify inequities and how to use your voice."Students connect to the outdoors daily and explore the green space in all seasons.
Starfish class enjoys time outside.
Early education teachers Nicole Clark and Tammie Dailey stand in the toddler courtyard. Clark says she loves how every classroom floods with light and teachers and students can experience the outdoors while inside.Starfish prepares and delivers healthy meals for students daily. Classrooms are designed with a center pod to provide teachers with increased support and collaboration. They shared student lavatories, diapering, and handwashing stations. The family wellness center is in a ramping-up phase. Currently, occupational therapists visit on-site to work with students. Plans include physical and speech therapy, but workforce shortages have made it challenging to fill hires. University of Michigan Clinical Assistant Professor "Nurse Laura" Gultekin, PhD is the nurse navigator at the center. She helps families who have children with complex needs connect to and receive support services.Therapeutic spaces give children a space to decompress and express themselves. Through an observation window, parents and behavioral health professionals can learn more and work together to ensure they get the support and care they need.
Using play therapy, a behavioral health specialist can see how a child interacts with toys to help discern what their life may look like at home.
The center hosts indoor playrooms for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Gross motor activities include standing, jumping, running, throwing, and catching a ball.
The staff wellness lounge sports healthy snacks, coffee, yoga on TV, and space for eating, relaxing, or finishing a project. The adjacent atrium encourages teachers to rest in sunshine and nature.
Teacher atrium.The parent lounge at the front of the center was designed explicitly around parent feedback. Offering WiFi, laptops, workspace, coffee, and snacks, it's a meet-up spot and a space to get a little work done or decompress before student pick-up.
Principal Celina Byrd says the center's intentionally designed spaces, like the book nook, ensure children, parents, staff, and the community all have a place.
"The grove" is the center's largest playground, situated within the surrounding neighborhood, where 3 to 4-year-olds play. Each of the older classrooms has door access to the nature park. "There's a whole world out here," says Waits. The children have named the trees, and know where the fairies live.Students bring vegetables they grow in their gardens home to their families to help promote healthy eating.The center's community-made mosaic represents early childhood education's role in a child's life: planting, nurturing, and helping beauty to bloom.

All photos unless otherwise marked were taken by Steve Koss.

This entry is part of our Early Education Matters series, exploring the state of early education and childhood care in our region. Through the generous support of the Southeast Michigan Early Childhood Funders Collaborative (SEMI ECFC), we'll be reporting on what parents and providers are experiencing right now, what's working and what's not, and who is uncovering solutions.
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Read more articles by Sarah Williams.