The Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School is a childcare teaching center to be built on the corner of 4th Street and Civic Center Drive in Santa Monica. The School fulfills the City of Santa Monica's Civic Center Specific Plan, which set forth a new vision for the Civic Center, and included the provision of quality childcare with priority given to residents and employees of the area.
Santa Monica College's dynamic Early Childhood Education Department – also known as the SMC Teacher Academy – will bring its rigorous academic lab component to the School. Students preparing to be childcare professionals – including in the Early Intervention Assistant track, which prepares them to work with young children with disabilities and other special needs – will utilize the lab school by observing and documenting child development, growth, and play – while learning how to help Santa Monica families and employees promote their children's success and well-being.
Santa Monica residents will have the highest priority at the new Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School. Priority enrollment criteria set forth that a minimum of 30 percent of the total enrollment will be Santa Monica residents and that a minimum of 15 percent will be of low-income status. In addition to the priority given to children of Santa Monica households of low-income status and children with special needs, slots will be open to children of those in the Santa Monica workforce, including employees of the City of Santa Monica, SMC, and RAND.
Enrollment at the School is likely to be similar to the City's other childcare center, the Marine Park Child Care Center, which serves 70 percent Santa Monica residents and 30 percent local workforce.
The earliest discussion by the Santa Monica City Council regarding the construction of such a center goes back to 1989; it picked up momentum after 2001 when the Civic Center Working Group identified the provision of a child development facility as a priority based on a resident survey. In 2004, City Council adopted a motion directing staff to explore a partnership with Santa Monica College, to bring to fruition the vision of the childcare center as included in the Civic Center Specific Plan; in 2012, the SMC Board of Trustees and City Council approved a proposed agreement between the two agencies to allow for the construction of the center within the Civic Center property.
The Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School building – which includes a preschool building, an infant-toddler building, offices, and classrooms, and a public meeting space – will occupy roughly 19,152 square feet; and the project site is approximately 60,480 square feet.
Starting in 2002, SMC formed a Santa Monica Preschool Collaborative with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Easter Seals of Southern California. In 2007, the Collaborative became solely a partnership between SMC and SMMUSD.
The Collaborative provides services for up to 108 children under the age of six. SMMUSD operates two main sites, one at John Adams Middle School (adjacent to SMC's main campus) and one at Washington West in Ocean Park. SMMUSD also offers childcare services at a number of other locations. SMC contributes funding to the Collaborative (approximately $115,000 per year) plus provides the full-time services of an SMC faculty member. The number of SMC students who require childcare while attending classes is relatively small; typically, the Collaborative enrolls about 20 to 25 children of SMC students during a semester.
SMC intends to maintain its partnership with SMMUSD in the Collaborative in order to meet student need for childcare even after the new Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School opens. (Children of SMC students and staff are eligible to attend the new School, however, the existing locations will continue to be available and would likely be considered more convenient.)
As a result, SMC expects that most slots at the new School will be for children of Santa Monica residents and Santa Monica workforce members.
There is a growing body of research on the value and importance of high-quality early education programs, especially for disadvantaged children. The Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School is conceived of and planned to be one that is truly innovative – combining the City's need for childcare with a world-class academic program (the SMC Teacher Academy), which will create a cycle of long-lasting benefits for the community and city of Santa Monica.
While children gain access through the School to an enriched childcare program – that is made even richer by its access to research scholars that are SMC faculty, and teachers-in-training who are learning innovative practices – parents will be able to gain more work experience, and higher earnings gains as they are able to advance their careers, a natural by-product of having access to quality childcare. A research study co-authored by Nobel laureate James Heckman, a professor at the University of Chicago and the director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development showed the benefits of quality early childhood education programs across two generations; it was shown to promote social mobility within – and across – generations.
Santa Monica is a city that is admired across the nation and the world for its pioneering spirit and as the iconic vanguard of the California Dream. The Santa Monica Early Childhood Lab School, as conceived, will without a doubt become a part of what Santa Monica is admired for.