KINGSTON, R.I. — October 22, 2008 — There is care in her voice as Deborah Morelle helps the young boy decide which book to read. Moments later, she offers a hug to a girl who has bumped her head, providing the solace needed to slow the flow of tears.
This is the level of personal attention provided at the Dr. Pat Feinstein Child Development Center in Providence. Located in the Shepard Building at the University of Rhode Island Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education, the center is home to both a preschool classroom and a preK/kindergarten mixed class. The kindergarten program, which started two years after the center opened in 1996, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
Morelle, the coordinator of the Feinstein CDC, and teacher Kristin Lamont have been with the kindergarten program since its inception. In addition to providing a nurturing environment for the children, the center also serves as a breeding ground for URI students studying early childhood education.
“The time has gone by very fast, and I can’t imagine being in another job,” said Morelle, who has a combined 36 children in the preschool and kindergarten programs.
Philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein was the driving force behind the development of the center, which is named for his wife, Pat, a psychiatrist with a long history of work in early childhood education. When the center opened, it was strictly a preschool program, but at the urging of the parents with children in the program, Feinstein provided further funding to expand into a kindergarten program in 1998.
“With the kindergarten program, it allowed us to provide more continuity of care for the children,” Morelle said. “There is more consistency for the children because they know the environment. We also get to know the families better, which enables us to be in tune with the parents’ ideas and values.”
Two years ago, the Feinstein Child Development Center became the first program in Rhode Island to meet the new standards for accreditation set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It was one of the first 17 programs nationally to earn the mark.
“The center provides an excellent opportunity for the University of Rhode Island because we can set a high standard in the field,” Morelle said. “The setting here helps the children in the program become confident learners.”
During the course of the year, approximately 75 URI students get hands-on experience under the tutelage of Morelle and the staff of five full-time teachers. There are three full-time teachers in the preschool program, and two for the preK/kindergarten mix.
“We have an outstanding group of students who come in and work with the children,” Morelle said. “Those students are developing into strong child educators who are dedicated and making a difference in the field.”
As students go through the program, their responsibilities in the classroom grow. Introductory students strictly observe the classroom environment, while students in the intermediate phase play and interact with the children. Senior-level students will create activities and carry out classroom planning exercises that are monitored and evaluated by the faculty.
With the number of faculty and students involved, the center has a very low child-adult ratio, especially compared to the public school ratios that can be as high as 25-to-1.
“The children here receive a great deal of individual attention,” Morelle said. “The model we have creates a comfort level for the children, which in turn helps them develop more confidence. That leads to a better chance of success as they move into older classroom settings.”
The unique setting of the Feinstein CDC allows for creative planning opportunities, as the program uses the city limits as its playground.
“We go outside twice a day with the students and walk to different places in the city,” Morelle said. “There is an opportunity to expose these children to so many wonderful things in this setting, and that is something we work hard to incorporate into the experience.”
In addition to the city setting, the program also offers a wealth of diversity. The children in the program come from three distinct groups of parents: those who attend URI, those who work in the city, and those who live in the city.
“The children come from a wide array of backgrounds, which offers another strong element to program,” Morelle said. “There is a built-in sense of diversity that helps both the development of the children and of the students who interact with them in the classroom.”
Nora Gorman (left) and Matthew Schmelzer work on crafts at the Feinstein Child Development Center.
The Dr. Pat Feinstein Child Development Center allows Ali Abdul-Mumin (left) and Carter Windle the opportunity to explore their surroundings in Providence.
Photos taken by Lisa-Marie Ricci.