Closing Learn to Grow will have 'devastating impact'

The following statement by Marianne Racioppi, executive director of Learn to Grow, was presented to the School Committee on Thursday, Oct. 8, at Town Hall. The photo shows the entrance to the preschool as work took place in August:

Thank you for allowing us to be on the agenda tonight. What I have to say is crucially important because it concerns many children here in Arlington.

The school committee is faced with the problem of the growing enrollment of children attending our schools in grades K-12. It is vital to also understand that the same growing enrollment problem exists for children attending schools like ours ages 1-6. Our school, Learn to Grow, with 100 children and a wait list of 50 more is comprised of families with both parents working. Closing our school will have devastating impact on them.

It is important to note that the majority of our children are from East Arlington and rely on us and our location in the Gibbs. Many have either one car or no car and rely on public transportation. There are NO options for us to move in East Arlington. NONE. I have searched for years for additional space.

Please, do not think of us as just "TENANTS." We are long term integrated, community organizations at the Gibbs that provide Arlington families vital needed services. ANY proposal to change and eliminate our services will only be an attempt to solve one problem but in turn creates another one for our Arlington families.

Almost 30 years ago the leaders in town were very thoughtful as to how to use the Gibbs. They recognized that the organizations that would use the Gibbs MUST integrate and provide CRUCIAL services to both our children and adults in our community.

Learn to Grow is the only National Association of Education of Young Children accredited school in Arlington. We have educated thousands of Arlington children and have become central to Arlington's early childhood community as a premier educator of young children. Our reputation within the community is reflected in many ways, from enrollment in our school, to graduates of our school coming back to work as teachers.

Educators and parents know that our strong preschool programs are crucial for children as we prepare them to enter into public school. Learn to Grow is NEEDED in our community. The program is an important partner to our Arlington schools as our highly experienced administration and teachers work closely with the Arlington public schools preparing pre-school children academically and socially for grade school including children who are in need of special education services.

Each year, we prepare 90 - 100 Arlington children entering into Arlington Public schools, representing more than 80 Arlington families. For those of you with children that went to preschool, IMAGINE that being taken away. Imagine me having to tell our hard working teachers, also Arlington residents, they are out of a job, many of whom have worked at Learn to Grow for over 25 years.

In addition, our school contributes to the community with free workshops for parents and children, local events for the community, collaboration with the Arlington Recreation Department in joint events, outreach to local food pantry and spending time with our senior citizens.

We assist local Arlington residents by permitting them to participate in our school as part of their college curriculum. Additionally, we work with Harvard University to conduct research in language arts studies.

I would like to leave you with this very important thought ... all of us at the Gibbs serve hundreds if not thousands of children and adults in our community each year. Let me repeat that "all of us at the Gibbs serve hundreds if not thousands of children and adults in our community each year .... Displacing us is not much different than closing one of our current nine public schools. We would not even think of it ... not just because it is our collective responsibility to care for and educate our children, but because it would also cause unthinkable disruptions to the families we all serve. As a community, we have an equal responsibility for children aged 1-6 as we do children age 6-18. I know it is crucial for all of us to work together to find the best solutions for our children here in Arlington. But together, we need to find a solution for all our Arlington children. We are an important connected partner to our Arlington schools.

My staff and I are ready to help and look forward to working with all areas of town government to resolve this challenge.

This viewpoint was published Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.