Large sign that reads Guild of St Agnes Early Education & Care, University Collaborative, Worcester State University

Guild of St. Agnes and Worcester State open doors to new early childhood education learning lab

May 18, 2023
By: Deborah Alvarez O'Neil

The Guild of St. Agnes in partnership with Worcester State University has opened University Collaborative Early Education Center, an innovative childcare center and teaching lab for future educators. The new center, located at 248 Mill Street, will serve 152 children ages 4 weeks to 5 years olds, while also providing space for Worcester State early childhood education majors to work, learn, and observe in real classroom settings.

The iconic 17,600-square-foot building on Mill Street, once the home of Colonial Bowling Center, was purchased by the Guild in December 2021 for $1 million. The building has undergone a $7 million renovation to reimagine the space as a light, bright, and colorful learning center for small children. The center has six preschool classrooms and four infant/toddler rooms all with their own bathrooms, a kitchen, laundry room, observational hallways for teachers and parents and a college classroom. Special attention was given to preserving some of the building’s original features such as the maple wood floors and the open-truss ceilings.

More than 100 community members, educators, local officials and state legislators attended a celebratory opening event on May 18. In remarks, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care Amy Kershaw reflected on visiting “a dusty building” a year ago and talking with Guild leaders about the future of early childcare.

“We have made incredible progress over the last year. We have a long way to go. We are experiencing challenges across the state in every area: access, affordability, capacity, quality for families, but we are making real progress.” she said. “I’m incredibly optimistic that we are going to be able to do the work that’s needed to continue to stabilize and heal from the pandemic and transform the field into what we know it can be – access and equity for every family across the Commonwealth. And we are standing in a building that represents exactly that future. That’s what’s so amazing about being here today.”

Kershaw praised the partnership between the Guild and Worcester State for helping to professionalize and support the educational attainment of early childcare teachers and for supporting the economic mobility of the workforce.“And it’s going to send a message every single day about the space and the way our children deserve to feel,” Kershaw said. “We know that the spaces that kids and families and our educators spend time in can inhibit learning or they can facilitate learning, Kershaw said. “And you’re going to be facilitating learning through this partnership and in this space at every age group level, starting from infants all the way up to our early educators.”

Also delivering remarks was parent Yelitza Garcia, a 2015 Worcester State graduate who works in human resources for Worcester Public Schools Transportation Department. Her daughter Bellamy Bautista-Garcia, 3, was the first child enrolled at the center after months on a waiting list.

“I am a true believer that one is a product of their environment and I couldn’t be more ecstatic that Bellamy is going to be in an environment where all classrooms are brand new, where teachers would enjoy walking into their workplace and where learning would seem like so much fun and easy. It’s all a parent could ever ask for,” Garcia said. “Ever since Bellamy has started coming to the Guild she’s been interacting with more children and started speaking more English, as her primary language is Spanish and is learning and most importantly having fun as she is doing so.”

The opening of the new center comes amid a critical shortage of affordable childcare throughout the state, with wait lists for infant and toddler care. In 2022, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimated that lack of access to childcare costs the state $2.7 billion each year in lost earnings for employees, lower productivity and additional costs for employers, and lost tax revenue for the Commonwealth.

At the new University Collaborative, about half of the seats will be reserved for low-income families eligible for financial assistance from state funds. With the opening of University Collaborative, the Guild will have eight child care sites, 135 licensed family homes and 10 school-age programs serving nearly 1,800 children across the region.

“We are thrilled to welcome children and families to the new University Collaborative Early Education Center, the only center of its kind in Worcester,” said Guild of St. Agnes President and CEO Sharon MacDonald. “This beautiful new facility will play an important role in supporting local families with high quality childcare and enhancing the overall education system in our Worcester community.”

Through the partnership, Worcester State University early childhood education majors will be teaching and learning onsite and working with the Guild’s teachers to implement best practices in early childhood education. From its founding in 1874 as a state teachers college, Worcester State University has been a leader in educating teachers in Central Massachusetts. The university will offer evening academic programming at the new center to help teachers working at the Guild and other community childcare centers to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“The partnership between the Guild of St. Agnes and Worcester State represents a collaborative approach to addressing a community need — both for child care and for an academic role in preparing the workforce that supports child care,” said Worcester State University President Barry M. Maloney. “The new center will serve as a model for innovation in early childhood education in our community and around the state.”

The facility renovation was led by McDonnell Contracting, Jordan O’Connor and Associates Architecture and supported with gifts from several foundations including: George I. Alden Trust; the Ruth H. and Warren A. Ellsworth Foundation; the Fletcher Foundation; the Hanover Insurance Group Foundation; the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts; the Stoddard Charitable Trust; the Wyman Gordon Foundation; the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation. The project was also supported with funding from the MA State budget, thanks to the advocacy of Senator Michael Moore and Representative John Mahoney.

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