King Center plays developmental role in early childhood education
Culture | Cherie Suonvieri
Near the end of every calendar year, Benson Great Hall fills to the brim with parents, faculty and students alike, all gathered for what is considered by many to be one of Bethel’s favorite chapels—the CDC Christmas chapel.
Most of the Bethel community is familiar with the CDC (Child Development Center) near North Woods and North Waters, but these children only make up half of the performing group. The other children come from the King Family Foundation Child Development Center, Bethel’s equally cute sister CDC in Frogtown.
The King Cener was founded in 1998, and continues to be made possible under Bethel’s ownership and through collaboration with the Union Gospel Mission and Mt. Olivet Baptist church. The program means to provide for and encourage quality education in St. Paul.
Bethel students are often seen passing in and out of the campus CDC, some there to volunteer, others there fulfilling required field experience time as elementary education majors with a pre-primary emphasis. The latter group of students also has the opportunity to spend time at the King Center.
Junior Alyssa Biscoe completed her field experience during the 2012-2013 year, spending half of her time at the Bethel CDC and the other half at the King Center. When fall of 2013 arrived, she was placed, and willingly so, at the King Center for a semester of student teaching.
Biscoe described the experience as eye opening. “I grew up in a school without much diversity,” the Hastings High School grad said. She estimates that around 90 percent of the students King serves are African American.
Biscoe also shared that many of the families receive government assistance for childcare. “A lot of the families want their kids to learn, but it’s a different dynamic working with families who have more difficult situations at home,” she explained.
Designing a multicultural curriculum was one of the challenges Biscoe faced in her time student teaching. “I look at children’s books, and I don’t necessarily notice that they’re all white… I had to be intentional about picking things out that represent [the children's] culture,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Biscoe’s time spent at the King Center has been fruitful. She explained that seeing the children’s love for school and learning, along with the relationships she’s developed with them, has been the most rewarding part.
“I stopped in for an hour last Thursday, and they all remembered me—it’s those relationships and just being able to be a part of their education,” Biscoe said.
Reflecting on both her experiences at the campus CDC and at the King Center, Biscoe explains that activities take place in a more structured format at King, comparable to school. The overarching goal is to prepare the children for kindergarten.
While learning readiness is said to be a priority, staff at the King Center also have a set of spiritual goals for the children, including increasing their familiarity with Jesus Christ, teaching them that God loves them and made them uniquely special, and helping them in growing their ability to love others. The King Center’s website explains that while Bible stories and Christian practices will be incorporated into the program, the main faith emphasis will be illustrated through the teachers' involvement in the children's lives.
From her time at the King Center, Biscoe has developed a desire to work in a low-income school district. “I’ve realized and seen, firsthand, the need that students have—” she said. “How much they need good teachers that really care about them, beyond just their education.”
Biscoe noted that during her semester student teaching, she arranged for the children of the King Center to have a turn on the bulletin board along the wall in the BC between Student Life and the campus store, where typically photos, crafts or projects from the campus CDC have been displayed in the past. Now the two CDCs will alternate each month.
Bethel students and faculty are also invited to celebrate black history with the King Center as the preschoolers present a program reminding attendees of significant contributions of African Americans throughout history. The event will take place Friday, Feb. 28 at 5:30 p.m. in the Ober Community Center Gym, 376 Western Ave., St. Paul.