Early Learning Center

The Ellensburg School District’s Early Learing Center has been relocated to the Mount Stuart Elementary School campus.

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The annex building located at the old Mount Stuart Elementary School has been transformed into a new Early Learning Center for the Ellensburg School District. For roughly two decades, the Early Learning Center was located at Central Washington University, but now it is on ESD property.

This change gives the program more space to operate and expand, according to Early Learning director Juli Hamilton. This expansion will allow more slots for students across the community and offer more spaces for students with special needs.

“We can have more families sign up and we also have been able to open up to typically developing students as well,” Hamilton said. “Some students have special needs and some of our students are more typically developing. So to create a more inclusionary program, we know that it’s good to have a balance of both.”

Director of special programs at ESD, Patty Kimmel said early learning students with disabilities learn better when they are not separated from their peers, because all students can learn from each other.

“General education peers, those are the students that have skills intact, and they can model what’s appropriate for students in special education who need to see how to start a conversation with someone or how to ask someone to play,” Kimmel said. “It also increases empathy for general education students. It really helps with language and communication. Kids with disabilities, when they see a role model, they can increase their language as well.”

Currently the program serves 38 (3 to 4-years-old) students across four classes and two classrooms. There are two classes in the morning (8 a.m to 11 a.m.), and two in the afternoon (noon to 3 p.m.) Two teachers, Effany Martinson and Cathy Idler, who have been with the program since it was at CWU.

Hamilton said the new building and program changes have provided the district with a third classroom if they ever need the space. This means if enrollment for early learning climbs at some point in the future, the program will be ready.

“We are looking forward to next year as we grow more students, we do have potential to grow into a third classroom,” Hamilton said.

She said they want to keep the number of students in each class low, with the ratios at about 15 students per class. With under 40 students enrolled at the moment, the program has a ways to go before needing the extra classroom.

The program officially started the year Oct. 7, and has classes Monday through Thursday.

Hamilton said they have made some improvements to the building to make it more suitable for an early learning classroom. One such change was suggested by the teacher, Cathy Idler, was to modify the windows to be larger, closer to the ground, so younger students who are shorter can actually use them.

“It’s been going really well. With all the construction on campus, we have definitely navigated the blessing of new,” Hamilton said. “It is a beautiful early learning space.”

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