First United Methodist Church Early Learning Center sets the standard for quality education in Baton Rouge
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First United Methodist Church Early Learning Center sets the standard for quality education in Baton Rouge

Feb 07, 2024

Joyce Hayes, a longtime educator, works with infants at the Early Learning Center.

This article is brought to you by First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge.

For generations, the Early Learning Center at First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge has been preparing local youth for success in kindergarten and beyond. Today, the Center continues to thrive and be a model of successful early education for the youngest learners.

Recently, nine of the ELC’s 10 classrooms received “excellent” scores in both the fall and spring in the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), a tool developed by the University of Virginia to analyze the quality of teacher-student interactions in the classroom. The average of all 10 classrooms each semester was over six on a seven-point scale. The tool produces the ratings based on evaluations of emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support.

“It’s very reassuring to know that we are doing what we are supposed to and doing it the correct way,” said Pam Brignac, ELC Director. “It’s one thing to think you have a good program, but it’s another to have other people assess your work and determine that it’s of high quality. We strongly believe that children learn through play. When they are interested in what they are doing, they tend to focus more clearly on it, pay closer attention and enjoy it. Our goal is that children learn to love learning.”

Brignac said the ELC classrooms have designated areas for activities. For example, quiet reading centers give children a private space to delve into a favorite book. Science centers feature water toys and magnets. In a dramatic play area, toddlers can pretend they are running a house. Other areas focus on exercise, flowers, food, art, animals and more.

Gloria Glasper works with children at a sensory table at the First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge's Early Learning Center.

The skilled and dedicated ELC staff includes some personnel who have been there for decades. Lisa Lands has been a member of the Center’s teaching staff for 32 years and counting. One of her favorite aspects of her job is growing socially, emotionally and spiritually alongside her students, with all of them learning leadership and relationship skills together.

“It’s important to us to have a fun environment based on finding out what the children are interested in, then incorporating those interests into the lesson plans and our communications with them,” Lands said. “A child’s natural curiosity is the basis to foster a lifelong love of learning. There’s something new to learn every day. Any time that I can help a child reach a new milestone is a rewarding day for me.”

Lands said she always incorporates laughter and teamwork into her classroom activities, whether it’s learning how to tie a shoe or pretending to be characters in a storybook.

“The kids can be emotional sometimes if they get overwhelmed, so we nurture them constantly,” she said. “Our work is about learning, but it’s also about love and hugs and solving problems and creating smooth transitions from one activity to another.”

Another longtime educator, Gloria Glasper, has marked 43 years as a teaching staff member at the ELC and is now educating the children and grandchildren of some of her earliest students.

“I love coming in every day, talking with the students, and listening to them ask all of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions,” Glasper said. “It’s important to hear what they have to say because we can learn a lot from them. Parents often tell us that they love hearing their child’s conversations about what they have learned. It makes them pleased to know that their children will be well-prepared once they enter kindergarten.”

Brignac said the ELC accepts children from six weeks old through pre-K four. The changing dynamics in Baton Rouge education has resulted in more infants and toddlers being enrolled in the ELC in recent years. Brignac also attributes that change to more parents understanding the value of introducing education to their children as early as possible.

Lisa Lands celebrates Mardi Gras with children at the Early Learning Center.

“There’s been so much research over the past 30 years about brain development and how much of it takes place between the ages of zero and three,” Brignac said. “A lot of studies have shown that if a child is not exposed to a learning environment during that window, the window may close and it will be harder for them to catch up. The earlier you start, the easier it will be for the child to learn.”

Any parent interested in the ELC can visit to review the admission policy and application. Currently, there are limited opening in the ELC’s three-year-old classes. However, applicants are placed on a waiting list that is rolled over continuously, meaning only one application is required.

The Early Learning Center is a nonprofit ministry of First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge and has been in operation for more than 50 years. It is located at 930 North Boulevard in Baton Rouge. For more information, call 225-387-4299 or email [email protected].

Email Amanda McElfresh at [email protected]