IFF Learning Spaces: Three Stories of Growth

“Red, green, blue – all on the walls and all on the floors. That’s how my daycare used to be. But how can a child learn if they’re over-stimulated?” asks Felicia Legardy, Director of Crystal Swann Child Care.

Legardy was one of 16 early childhood education providers to receive a grant from the second year of IFF’s Learning Spaces program, which provides grants and technical assistance to upgrade early learning facilities. Softer colors, natural lighting, upgraded kitchens, and modern heating/cooling systems are among the typical facility improvements covered by the grants.

“I came in the day after the paint dried, and I was so happy. That was the best day of my life,” says Legardy, whose home-based facility was re-painted in soft, neutral colors. Her facility also received significant physical upgrades – a larger egress window for emergencies, and new flooring, stairs, heating/cooling, and furniture. “All the work that I do, it seemed like it just paid off.”

Legardy has been a highly-rated home-based provider for almost three decades, and her facility hadn’t been upgraded significantly since her first child enrolled. Her story is echoed by other early childhood providers.

Consider Tonya Briggs, who owns and operates Kristy’s Development Center and has been a childcare provider in Detroit for 22 years. She expanded out of her home into her current facility serving 60 children and is getting ready to expand again. Her Learning Spaces application initially requested some new playground equipment, but after consulting with the IFF staff, she decided to update her lighting, ceiling, and roof.

Specifically, she swapped out harsh fluorescent lights for indirect/incandescent lights and also uncovered some skylights. She explains the importance of this decision: “I was sitting at the desk the other day during naptime, and one of the children was laying under the skylight. She was just looking at it, and she eventually just faded away and went to sleep. It calmed her and relaxed her, and that’s the type of atmosphere I want here.”

Zina Davis, Executive Director of the Children of the Rising Sun Empowerment Center, also spoke of the calming effects of softer lights and colors. “One of the greatest things that I feel when my parents drop off their children is that they’re in another home,” she says. “And when the children come in, how they react is an amazing feeling – you see how calm they are.”

Davis also started out in her home for 10 years before moving to a large, three-classroom space serving 27 children.

Like these three examples, IFF Learning Spaces grantees are long-serving and highly-rated providers. In addition to the renovations they complete in consultation with IFF, they also engage in group workshops to discuss and discover what quality facilities look like.

“Facilities are not the only things being transformed through Learning Spaces,” says Monica Duncan, IFF’s Director of Early Childhood Services. “Many of our providers come to us requesting something relatively small – new playground equipment, or a mold check – because after years and years in this business, they haven’t come to expect anyone to invest in them. They have always been strong advocates for children, but – through this process, when we truly collaborate on addressing the needs of children and their caregivers – they are becoming stronger advocates for themselves and for each other.”

Learning Spaces just began its third year of programming. Originally funded by The Kresge Foundation, the first year provided grants totaling $150,000 to facilities serving a total of 631 children. IFF and Kresge then scaled the program in the second year, providing $800,000 in grants for 16 facilities serving over 700 children. Now entering into its third year, the program is supported by three major foundations – Kresge, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation – and will expand outside of the City of Detroit to also serve Out-Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties.

“Safe and inspiring learning environments lay the foundation for positive early childhood experiences,” Duncan says. “That’s why we are working with high-quality early childhood providers to transform their spaces.”

Learn more at www.iff.org/learningspaces.

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