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New preschool aimed at helping Flint kids exposed to lead

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A new early childhood education center in Flint is intended to help children exposed to the worst of the city’s lead-tainted water.

“These nook areas are going to be further developed to be interactive,” Educare Flint Director Denise Smith said as she led a tour of the new $15 million facility.  

She says about 200 children, ranging in age from two months to five years old, will get lessons designed to promote cognitive development in hopes of countering the effect of high lead exposure.

“All the cognitive abilities may be impacted,” Smith says of the high lead levels young children were potentially exposed to during the city’s water crisis. “What we do know is that this type of intervention can mitigate some of those concerns that can come … known and unknown.”

Smith calls Educare “the Harvard of preschools.” And much like Harvard, it’s expensive. She says it costs about twice what other programs do.

Educare Flint is supported by local foundations, as well as the state of Michigan and local school districts.  

Ridgway White is the president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The Mott Foundation has invested heavily in a variety of programs to help Flint recover from the water crisis, including education.

“But we needed more investment in early childhood education,” says White, “because we found that there is research that shows that investing in kids early on has the best benefit of helping the kids have a life of success.”  

White says Educare’s mission extends beyond its campus.

The center will also work with parents, caregivers and licensed day care operators to educate them about how to improve the cognitive and behavioral development of the thousands of Flint children exposed to high levels of lead. 

Back at the center, Paula Jones is looking forward to working with her class of four-year-olds.

“To see all the children’s faces and the responses of the children and their families has been a huge blessing to me,” Jones says.

Director Denise Smith is also excited by the opportunity to make a difference.

“At the end of the day that’s what we all feel is important, that we’ve given these children the most important and best start to be their most successful and awesome selves,” says Smith.  

Smith says currently Educare Flint is funded only through 2019. But she’s hopeful they will be able to attract the funding they need to sustain the program into the future. 

Educare Flint is not alone in providing specialty preschool programs in Flint.

Great Expectations early childhood education centers are operating at Cummings and Brownell-Holmes schools in the Flint Community School District.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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