Addition to Guadalupe Center opening doors for early childhood learning

— What once were empty classrooms and hallways are now filled with laughter, children’s voices and lots and lots of books.

Thursday, members of the Immoklaee community and the Guadalupe Center staff dedicated the Jim Near Education Building of the Morgridge Early Childhood Education Center, 509 Hope Circle, Immokalee.

When the children of Immokalee benefit, the community benefits, said Richard Rice, executive director of the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce.

The new center will allow the Morgridge Early Childhood Center to increase its capacity from 169 children currently to 275, according to Alicia Lindo, development director for the Guadalupe Center.

These eight new classrooms will help us meet the tremendous need for early childhood education in Immokalee, said Barbara Oppenheim, executive director of the Guadalupe Center.

Some of the classrooms are still empty, Lindo explained to a group of about 15 people she was leading on a tour, because the center is still raising funds to accommodate more children.

The Jim Near Education Building will house the preschool academy. The concept is a school within a school. The teachers will have the opportunity to be mentored by current and retired education professionals on site. Local college students majoring in early childhood education will also have the opportunity to intern there.

The new building provides eight classrooms for children ages 4 and 5.

As visitors walked past the classrooms, they could see children reading, painting and drawing. Each classroom has a tiny door that allows the students to have their own entrance, and lots of windows to see who is coming down the hallways.

It’s beautiful. I love it, said Gina Rivera, who was teaching 17 children in one of the classrooms. It’s very different from the little, tiny building we used to be in.

In addition to new classrooms there is a state-of-the-art cafeteria where students are served a hot breakfast, lunch and a snack.

But it is the back of the Jim Near Education Building that is a child’s dream. Three playgrounds, all age appropriate, line the back of the facility.

The 4- and 5-year-old’s playground has everything a miniature lighthouse and small buildings painted to look like the Immokalee Fire Department, the Guadalupe Center and the Immokalee Post Office.

We wanted to create an environment where the children could be creative and inspired, said Lindo.

Rochelle Shelley Lieb, a past board member of the Guadalupe Center, has her name above the sound garden, an area where students can play giant instruments made of PVC pipe and other items.

Lieb was also responsible for the library, which started in a hallway in the Morgridge Early Childhood Education Center, but has spread into its own room.

The reality outpaced the vision, she boasted. We now have 4,000 books in the library. Every classroom has books. But this is a place where teachers as well as parents can come and take out books to read to the children.

Lieb said Immokalee has a wonderful public library but it was her goal to create a place where parents and teachers had access to books where the children came to school. She said she is pleased with the final product.

We had a parent request a title the other day, she said.

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