Preschool Featured in Positive Communities

In Tamika Scott's classroom at The North Ward Center Child Development Center in Newark, a gaggle of preschoolers is seated on a rug, with their hands neatly folded on their laps.

Scott asks the children about the weather. One boy raises his hand and tells Scott that it's cold and rainy. She hands him a marker and he steps to a weather chart and colors in a grid.

After a few more questions, Scott tells the children it's time to sing. They jump up and clap their hands excitedly as Scott leads them in a song about the seasons.

While the children may not realize it, anyone listening to Scott's singing will immediately recognize she doesn't have the voice of a typical preschool teacher.

"It's a gift from God," says Scott, who started singing as a child in the Rainbow Sisters at the Rose of Sharon Baptist Church in Newark. Now she sings at Bethel New Life in East Orange.

Singing is an important part of the curriculum at The North Ward Center Child Development Center, even for teachers who weren't blessed with Scott's voice.

"It doesn't matter if you have a good voice, you should sing anyway," Scott said. "A song gets the children excited, it makes it fun and gets them involved."

There's more that goes on in Scott's classroom than singing. There's also the serious business of learning. The day begins for some as early as 7:30 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., though many preschoolers stay to 5:30 p.m. for aftercare.

At the beginning of the day, students can choose an area of the classroom that they want to explore. Scott and her assistant make the rounds to ensure students are learning the lessons of each area.

Students also get breakfast, lunch and a snack, play outside, take an hour nap and spend time learning the basics. Nearly all the students who graduate from the program are able to read, write and count.

"When the students graduate from our program, they are ready for kindergarten," said Michele Sceppaguercio, the director of the preschool program. "A high-quality early childhood education sets the foundation for academic achievement."

Indeed, a study by Rutgers University's National Institute for Early Education Research found that urban children who attended preschool had academic gains through fourth and fifth grade.

The preschool was among the first programs created by The North Ward Center. Since then, it has grown into one of the largest providers of free preschool in the state, with 40 classrooms at four locations, each with 15 students.

"In order for our children in Newark to compete, we need to give them the advantage of an excellent early education," said Founder Stephen N. Adubato.

In addition to the preschool, The Center founded Robert Treat Academy, a nationally recognized, Blue Ribbon K-8 charter school. The Center also operates one of the largest after-school programs in the state as well as programs for seniors and families.

"Our core mission is to provide Newark citizens with the tools they need to be successful in life," said Adrianne Davis, the Co-Founder/Executive Director of The North Ward Center.

In the classroom, Scott, 38, gives children those tools. Born and raised in Newark, Scott graduated from Kean University with a degree in early childhood education and received her master's degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She has been teaching at the North Ward Center Child Development Center for 15 years.

"I felt like I was chosen to do this by God," Scott said. "Going into early childhood education was the best decision I ever made. God definitely ordered my steps."