The Guild of St. Agnes will open a state-of-the-art, 155-seat child care center this fall that will feature an innovative early childhood education lab school through a new partnership with Worcester State University. The new center, University Commons Early Education and Care Program at 248 Mill Street, will meet an urgent need for high-quality, affordable child care and education across the region, and will be one of the only lab schools statewide with infants and toddlers.
“Since 1913, the Guild has been committed to creating high-quality child care centers for all children, regardless of their economic background,” said Executive Director of the Guild of St. Agnes Ed Madaus. “This new partnership allows us to ensure teachers have an excellent education while providing the best care and education for the children and families we serve.”
“We are thrilled to partner with the Guild of St. Agnes to advance the quality of early childhood education for our students,” said Worcester State University President Barry M. Maloney. “With the Guild’s longstanding commitment to caring for and educating our city’s youngest children and Worcester State’s historic distinction in educating teachers, this new facility will be a model statewide for early childhood educational excellence.”
The iconic building on Mill Street, purchased by the Guild in December 2021 for $1 million, was a well-known candlepin bowling alley, closed as a result of the Covid pandemic. The Guild is now leading a $6 million renovation in the 17,600-square-foot building to add seven preschool classrooms and three infant/toddler rooms all with their own bathrooms, a kitchen, laundry room, observational mirrors for teachers and parents and a college classroom. The building’s original maple wood floors are being preserved in the main atrium, as is part of the open-truss ceiling.
Through the partnership, Worcester State University faculty will collaborate with Guild teachers to implement best practices in early childhood education. The University’s education majors will be teaching and learning onsite through practicums and internships. In addition, the University will work closely with the Guild to put their teachers on a pathway to earning bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education. Evening classes in Worcester State’s early childhood education degree program will be moved to the center to serve teachers already in the field at the Guild and other child care programs throughout Worcester County.
“This is the most exciting thing we have done in 10 years, and it is coming at such a critical time,” said Worcester State University Education Professor Carol Donnelly, who is leading the University’s academic program in the new center. “Our hope is that the center is a lighthouse for diversity in terms of the children served and in terms of the teachers served and graduated by the partnership.”
“About half of the center’s 155 seats will be reserved for low-income families eligible for subsidized child care,” said Sharon MacDonald, deputy director of the Guild. In all, the Guild’s eight child care sites, 130 licensed family homes and 11 school-age programs serve 1,600 children across the region. Still, MacDonald said, “there are wait lists for infants and toddlers, and parents often cannot find the child care they need.”
“During the last two years, the pandemic put enormous strain on an already strained child care system,” said Eve Gilmore, executive director of Edward Street, a Worcester-based nonprofit early childhood education advocacy agency.
“We are in critical need of highly skilled, credentialed and experienced early childhood educators,” she said. “I’m thrilled that Worcester State University is willing to establish a lab school, and I’m optimistic that these partners are willing to take on the challenge of what confronts us. We know this is what’s best for our children, our community and our workforce.”
“We have been overwhelmed by the excitement this project is generating, by prospective parents, teachers and funders alike,” Madaus said. “The Guild’s capital campaign has already secured grants totaling $325,000 from the Stoddard Charitable Trust and Alden Trust, and are awaiting responses from other foundations, donors and grants to raise an additional $1.5 million. We are also working with Bay State Bank to secure additional financing. It seems that everyone loves the idea of transforming this Worcester gem into a place where children can grow and develop in a safe, nurturing environment.”
Photo: The Guild of St. Agnes and Worcester State University are partnering to open a new early childhood education lab school at 248 Mill Street, the former Colonial Bowling Center, which is now under renovation. Gathered for the groundbreaking were, from left, Worcester State University Provost Lois Wims; WSU Vice President of University Advancement Thomas McNamara; Cheryl Delsignore, President, Guild Board of Directors; WSU President Barry Maloney; Raynold Lewis, WSU Dean of Education, Liberal & Interdisciplinary Studies; Architect Jordan O’Connor; Guild of St. Agnes Executive Director Ed Madaus, Guild of St. Agnes Director of Facilities Peter Allard; Guild of St. Agnes Deputy Director Sharon MacDonald; General Contractor Alan McDonnell; Guild Director of School Age Margaret Madaus; Peter Alde, President & CEO of Bay State Bank; and Guild of St. Agnes Director of Human Resources, Sharon Woodbury. (Photo by Katie Ferreira)
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