In a unique community collaboration, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Union Settlement Association and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) celebrated a ribbon-cutting for a new learning “hub” inside the Union Johnson Early Learning Center and Head Start facility in East Harlem’s Johnson Houses Community. This early childhood literacy and health hub represents the first such effort in public housing. Families living in and around the NYCHA site will benefit from this effort that will serve as a model for future education and health initiatives in New York City. Utilizing the existing system of community facilities and programs, Union Settlement, NYCHA and CMOM have brought museum quality exhibitions and programs to the Johnson Houses to embed the pillars of early learning and the museum experience in a permanent, year-round base inside public housing to serve as an anchor for community engagement.
“We know the importance of connecting our families to resources and opportunity, a wise investment that our city as a whole benefits from in turn, as we outlined as an imperative in our strategic roadmap Plan NYCHA,” said NYCHA Chairman John Rhea. “We are leveraging our assets such as community centers to achieve this aim, and with good partners at our side, such as CMOM and Union Settlement Association—there’s no stopping what we can do.”
“We want to maximize the use of existing classrooms and community facilities by turning them into learning experiences for the adults who work with children,” said CMOM Executive Director Andrew S. Ackerman. “The educational signage and exhibitions will help the children learn, but they will also serve as ongoing educational experiences for the caregivers and for the professional staff. Reaching parents when their children are very young is essential to make sure that sure children are nourished in all possible ways in their earliest years.”
“Union Settlement Association is very grateful to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, NYCHA and ACS for helping to bring this wonderful program to our early childhood education program here in East Harlem,” said David Nocenti, Executive Director of Union Settlement. “Not only are our pre-school children learning about healthy eating, but the lessons are extended to staff and parents as well, so we know that the benefits are reaching entire families in their homes. This is a wonderful initiative, and is a perfect example of the impact that nonprofits and governments can have by working together.”
The project model consists of activities and graphics. They provide families with a safe, nurturing environment to support the development of preschool readiness skills and to build healthy habits. The interactive components include Alphie, a talking dragon who encourages literacy and healthy foods; a NYC Green Cart replica to encourage healthy eating habits; a child-scale FDNY fire truck for dramatic play and socio-emotional learning; a block building area where children can explore math concepts through imaginative play; and a digital finger-painting kiosk and giant lite-brite to promote creativity through the arts.
Additionally, there are parent and child engagement programs that work in tandem with and are enhanced by the interactive exhibit. These programs use CMOM’s research-based/tested early learning curricula–including the EatPlayGrow™ curriculum that CMOM developed with the National Institutes of Health–for teaching early childhood literacy and health lessons through arts, science, music, movement, storytelling and cooking.
Among other features are professional development programs providing parents, caregivers and public housing educators with the tools and strategies to support the learning and developmental needs of young children. The inaugural year at Johnson Houses (2013-14) will serve as a model for the development of additional CMOM/NYCHA early learning and health hubs. A comprehensive evaluation and dissemination plan will identify successful practices for future replication.