After 10 years of planning, Isidore Newman School has opened the doors to a $6.5 million facility dedicated solely to early childhood education.
The 19,000-square-foot Green Trees Early Childhood Village was fully enrolled when it opened earlier this month with 155 students, double the capacity of the 33-year-old Greenie House, Newman’s prior early childhood program, officials said.
Sixteen classrooms are now dedicated to serving children ages 6 weeks to 4 years. The curriculum includes art, music and movement classes, and each subject has its own space and a teacher dedicated exclusively to the topic.
The building was designed to facilitate “top-quality early child development education,” said Elizabeth Elizardi, the facility’s director. “Our facility not only serves a high-quality program for Newman but is also a promise for our city to say, ‘This is what high-quality education should look like.’ ”
The facility’s name, Green Trees, is rooted in the school’s past and refers to a small grove on Newman’s Lower School campus, where the Cotonio Palaestra gym now stands. Writer Walter Isaacson once described it as an “enchanted forest,” describing the privilege of learning at the school, which has had a reputation for rigorous academics throughout its 112-year history.
Although it’s rooted in the past, educators say the new program is at the forefront of an educational philosophy that more than ever places importance on nursery and preschool education. Through play, teachers reinforce curiosity, creativity and empathy as well as problem-solving, basic literacy and analysis.
“The first four years of a child’s life are the most critical for brain development,” Elizardi said. “It’s when young children see everything and develop an awareness of their impact on the world. The responses children receive from caring adults are the beginning of healthy, secure attachment that leads to positive adult outcomes both academically and emotionally.”
One of Elizardi’s favorite rooms is the sensory motor room, which features water tables, rolling balls and trapeze swings. Tunnels, scooters and parachutes also allow children to “wake up their senses” in different ways, she said.
Scattered through other classrooms are repurposed materials that have become makeshift toys. Cardboard tubes, fabric scraps, large rocks, flowers and twigs all give children the opportunity to explore various shapes and textures.
“Part of our basic philosophy is called the constructionist approach,” Elizardi said. “We believe children can make meaning out of everyday experiences.”
Outside, a play area is anchored by a jungle gym and swing sets covered by canopies. Gardens line walkways and benches, and a wraparound porch not only “creates a sense of home,” Elizardi said, but also acts as an additional classroom.
The new building was designed by Waggonner & Ball Architects and constructed by Ryan Gootee General Contractors. Financing came from community fundraising and private donors.
Tuition for the 2015-16 school year varies from $11,500 for five full days a week to $5,175 for two half-days a week.
The program is designed to prepare students for admission into Newman’s prekindergarten.
Newman Head of School Dale M. Smith referred to the new facility as a “national model” for early childhood education.
“We are thrilled to see that the vision has been fully realized,” he said.