The “magic” of Marygrove’s Early Ed Center

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

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

Detroit program general manager Wendy Lewis Jackson accepted the award for Kresge in Vicenza, Italy, 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 General Manager Wendy Lewis Jackson and architect Marlon Blackwell receive Dedalo Minosse Award citations. On the left is Dr. Valentina Galan, director of cultural heritage and activities of the Veneto region. Courtesy of Kresge.“It’s a beautiful and integral part of a neighborhood that’s working to revitalize itself,” she said. “It really underscores the value of well-designed public projects like the Marygrove Early Education Center and the positive educational impact it provides to its communities – with dignity, wonder and joy!”

Kresge was one of four non-Italian winners to win a Dedalo Minosse award and the only American winner. The awards, presented since 1997, celebrate the unique bond between client and architect necessary to create inspiring architecture. This inspiration can be seen in the center’s vibrant terracotta cladding, sunlit 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. The space is amazing, says Jody Waits, Starfish’s director of development, but the real magic is the thoughtful integration of nurturing and wellness that happens inside.
Jody Waits, Head of Development at Starfish, with Peggy Kaczmarek, Senior Donor Relations Specialist, in the staff atrium.
“We hope what we learn here will become something we can replicate through Starfish and the global movement and professionalization of early childhood education, which is often labeled as babysitting,” she says. “If there’s anything we’ve learned from COVID-19, education and mental well-being at this point is virtually impossible to detach.”

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

Starfish Family Services celebrates nearly 60 years. The nonprofit social service agency focuses on education through Head Start and the Great Start to Readiness program and behavioral health services for infants up to age 20.
The University of Michigan and Starfish developed the center’s curriculum focused on literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), social justice, and racial empowerment.
Using the U of M program, “you could have a three-year-old who really has their day designed to read ‘The Hungry Caterpillar,’ but also start to identify inequities and how to use your voice,” says Waits. .
Each classroom is connected to an outdoor courtyard or play area with a glass wall to help bring the outdoors in.
Students log outdoors daily and explore the green space in all seasons.The Early Head Start class pose together during recess.Early childhood teachers Nicole Clark and Tammie Dailey stand in the toddler playground. Clark says she loves how every classroom is flooded with light and teachers and students can enjoy the outdoors throughout the day.
From its headquarters in Inkster, Starfish prepares and delivers healthy meals to students daily.
Classrooms are designed with a core module to provide teachers with increased support and collaboration. They shared student toilets, diapers and handwashing stations.
The family wellness center is in the ramp-up phase. Currently, occupational therapists travel to the site to work with the students. Plans include physiotherapy and speech therapy, but labor shortages have made recruitment difficult.
University of Michigan assistant clinical professor “Nurse Laura” Gultekin, Ph.D., is the center’s nurse navigator. She helps families with children with complex needs connect and receive support services.
Therapeutic spaces give a child displaying “big behaviors” an opportunity to calm down. Through an observation window, parents and behavioral health professionals can see the child in its natural form.
Using play therapy, a behavioral health specialist can see how a child interacts with toys to help them discern what their home life might be like.
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 offers healthy snacks, coffee, yoga on TV, and space to eat, relax, or complete a project. The adjacent atrium encourages teachers to rest in the sun and in nature.Staff atrium.
Director Celina Byrd says the centre’s intentionally designed spaces, like the reading corner, ensure that children, parents, staff and the community all have a place.The parent’s lounge at the center front was designed explicitly around parent feedback. Offering Wi-Fi, laptops, tables, coffee and snacks, it’s a meeting place and a space to get some work done or decompress before pick-up.“Le bosquet” is the largest playground in the center, located in the surrounding neighborhood, where children from 3 to 4 years old play. Each of the oldest classrooms has direct access to the natural park.
“There’s a whole world here,” Waits says. The children have named the trees and know where the fairies live.
Students bring home vegetables they grow in their gardens to help promote healthy eating.
The mosaic created by the center’s community depicts the role of early childhood education in a child’s life: planting, nurturing and helping beauty to flourish

All photos, unless otherwise stated, were taken by Steve Koss.

This entry is part of our Early education matters series, exploring the state of early childhood education and care in our region. Thanks to the generous support of the Southeast Michigan Early Childhood Funder Collaboration (SEMI ECFC) we will report on what parents and providers are currently experiencing, what is working and what is not, and who is discovering solutions.

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